A Hasty Note on Martin Luther King Day

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Martin Luther King was a seriously flawed man.  The plagiarism in his doctoral dissertation, the adulteries, the blurring of his Civil Rights mission and his dalliance with various leftist causes in his latter years — these were and are unfortunate.  In this respect, he reminds me of the Jaredite king Morianton, in the Book of Mormon:  “And he did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms” (Ether 10:11).

 

That said, he was also a man of remarkable bravery, and he paid for it with his life at the hands of a much lesser human being (possibly but not certainly James Earl Ray).  And he was stunningly eloquent, delivering powerful, biblically-cadenced speeches that moved millions, and that still move me.  (Barack Obama’s vaunted oratorical skills pale into insignificance alongside Dr. King’s, and, unlike Dr. King’s, the content of Mr. Obama’s speeches, when not confused, is very often vacuous.)

 

As a quasi-libertarian, I have reservations about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, to say nothing of quotas and affirmative action.  I believe that people have the right to be stupid, and even, within very broad legal limits, to be morally misguided.  For example, I think people should be able to rent or not to rent, to sell or not to sell, for any reasons they choose, including very bad ones.  Which means that I believe people have the right to refuse service to blacks, Irish, Jews, Catholics, and/or, yes, Mormons.  (My hope would be that the market would eventually discipline such moral obtuseness, since Catholic money and Mormon money and blacks’ money is, equally, money, and since, in a competitive economy, people who turn down the money of whole large groups and alienate large sectors of their potential market will, in the long term, lose or at least marginalize themselves.  But even if they survive and prosper, and even in the short term, they have that right.)

 

But that said, again, as a quasi-libertarian I think it obscene and immoral that governments supported segregation and Jim Crow laws.  I support freedom of association, freedom of economic transaction, free exchange.  Freedom.  I’m glad that those laws have all been overturned.  The government has utterly no business discriminating among its citizens on the basis of ethnicity or religious faith.

 

Moreover,  I’m pleased that America is far less overtly racist — and, I think it manifestly obvious, flatly far less racist — than it was sixty years ago and more.  I’m pleased (it’s the only substantial thing about his presidency that pleases me) that America has broken the color barrier in electing a black president.  (Well, 50% black, anyway.)

 

I honor Martin Luther King for his role in effecting that change.  He was flawed, yes.  But so are we all.  I honor him for his moral courage, and for the way that he brought a massive wrong to the awareness of the nation and worked upon the national conscience to right it.  As, now, an official geezer, I marvel at what Dr. King was able to achieve and the mark he was able to leave behind, before his death at thirty-nine.

 

My parents had a close friend, a wonderful man in many regards who went out of his way to do kind things for them and for others.  He could be counted on, always, and under even the most difficult circumstances, to be loyal.  But he was a disloyal husband, cheating on his wife time and time again.

 

I’m glad that it’s not my role to judge such people.  Instead, I trust in a merciful God.  He’s my only hope.

 

 

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  • Rodney Ross

    And when have we not had flawed leaders? We have certainly had adulterous presidents (not just recently) and will likely again. A flawed president and vice president were sworn in today. Had Mr. Romney won the election we could say the same thing. Were it not for the work of flawed individuals, we would never progress as we live in a fallen world and all are flawed. Even me!

    • danpeterson

      I hope you don’t think that you’re disagreeing with me.

      • http://None Lew Craig

        No. I probably should have been more direct. Being a BIG Peterson fan that I am, I thought it was a mistake to lead with his flaws or to even mention them. We usually don’t do that with people on their “day.” King’s flaws are quite well known. If I were writing about you, I wouldn’t mention flaws, but then I don’t know of any. Keep up the great work and have a great day!

  • Quickmere Graham

    “”I’m glad that it’s not my role to judge such people.”

    And yet, you went ahead and did it anyway.

    • Greg Smith

      Don’t be silly. If Dan did so (and it was inappropriate) then you pointing it out is likewise inappropriate.
      The command to “not judge” involves final judgments and declarations about people’s status before God. It is not forbidden to make intermediate judgments about behavior, and indeed it would be impossible to live without doing so dozens of times each day.

      Dallin H. Oaks said: “a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions….whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations. This is essential whenever we attempt to act upon different standards than those of others with whom we must associate–at home, at work, or in the community. We can set and act upon high standards for ourselves or our homes without condemning those who do otherwise…final judgment is the Lord’s and…mortals must refrain from judging any human being in the final sense of concluding or proclaiming that they are irretrievably bound for hell or have lost all hope of exaltation.” – Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not and Judging,” address given at BYU on 1 March 1998, Brighham Young University 1997-98 Speeches.

      It is beyond debate that MLK plagiarized and was a serial adulterer. It would unquestionably have been better for him and his family if he had not been. These acts even threatened the very real good he did and attempted to do, because if they had been public knowledge at the time, it would have allowed opponents of racial equality before the law to discredit him on an _ad hominem_ basis, and it would have given people of good will reason to distrust him (if a man will cheat on his wife, who can trust him?)

      One can deplore such behavior and judge such behavior as wrong without also condemning the actor, or dismissing the good he did for millions. Fortunately, only God will decide how such things weigh out in the balance. But God does not expect us to act as if or say that acts like academic dishonesty or infidelity are of no moral consequence.

      • danpeterson

        Dr. Smith is exactly correct, as usual.

    • danpeterson

      And yet I didn’t.

      And yet you’re judging me.

      (This is a fun game, and it can be played, quite self-righteously, forever.)

      • Quickmere Graham

        Nonsense. I didn’t write up a comment proclaiming that I wouldn’t judge you while also judging you. Good try though.

        • kaph

          Errr…. King did some pretty wrong things. He judged those things as wrong — in that you are correct. Are you stating King did nothing wrong? Or that it’s just inappropriate to acknowledge his flaws in light of the much much more good he did broadly for humanity.

          King accomplished much good in the United States and parallel to that he was committing much wrong unto himself and a small pool of others.

          Moral calculus would clearly declare him “better” than you or I in terms of the volume of “good” we do in the temporal world.

          On a personal level, I’m torn because I tend to lose respect for people who cheat on their wives. It’s not as if he didn’t know it was wrong, being a Christian. But the flip side of that is, I know from my own personal experience, when you are doing much good, it seems as if the devil works extra hard on any personal failing he can exploit — be that morality, pride, anger, etc.

          You can’t do good in this world without being constantly buffeted by the adversary. And the natural man wants to give into those buffetings very dearly. So I find it sad that he succumbed in his weakness, and tragic that he suffered so severely the effects of sin in a way to bring about tremendous good.

  • http://byubathrooms.com Jesse

    Dr Peterson,

    The market will tame racism?? It is my understanding that a huge majority of white-owned businesses in the South did alright while marginalizing all of their potential customers who were black.

    • danpeterson

      I didn’t say that it would happen immediately. But, over time, businesses willing to accept money from everybody will tend to outperform comparable businesses that exclude, say, blue-eyed people, or Irish women, or Jews, or Methodists, or some other substantial portion of their potential customer base.

  • Michael Towns

    Shame on Dr. Peterson for having the audacity to saying anything the least bit negative about two of the patron saints of Political Correctness: Dr. Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama, Nobel laureate.

    • DL

      Shame on you from your ivory tower of white privilege to denigrate others who have accomplished something. I suppose you think that the world would be better off if the rest of us were still in our “place.”

      • danpeterson

        There’s no reasonable way that you can derive such a sentiment from what I wrote.

    • Darren

      Glad I kept my lips closed because lumping Obama’s “nobility” in with Martin Luther King Jr.’s made my throw up in my mouth. (I hate the after taste).

  • Sad one

    It always saddens me every MLKJ day that I cannot find a recording of his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

  • Kent G. Budge

    The reason there were Jim Crow laws was because some businesses realized a buck is a buck, and would have served black customers if it was legal.

    Similar pattern in South America. Apartheid had to be maintained by force of law, because the economics otherwise were a powerful incentive for money-grubbing businessmen to violate the (profoundly racist and immoral) mores of their society.

  • http://realintent.org Bonnie

    He was killed a couple of years before my birth, but my mother used to say that it came as no surprise to her that he was shot. It wasn’t what he said, it was how he said it, nose to nose with those who hated him, jeering, she used to say. I’ve only watched the 16mm films and then the youtube videos. He was a great orator. He was the spokesman for the south in the way that even years later, living in the midwest, I found familiar and representative and warm. I always wished he was as pure as I imagined him, watching him preach the gospel of human passion to live free. I think he was good for our nation, uppity black man, daring to raise his voice, knowing that couldn’t end well. I think he was bad for our nation, in the way that most of our figureheads have been, personal transparency marred by “drinking muddy water” as my father used to say. I can’t separate him from his words when I talk about his legacy, but I can talk about the legacy of the ideas. We need people who drink clear water, live transparent lives, and are also good orators.

  • a former student

    This post is an appropriate occasion to ask: Who cares what you think of MLK? I don’t imagine you’ve liberated a single suffering individual in your rather small life, and MLK helped liberate millions. I don’t imagine that you’ve every suffered more than a hangnail or sore throat for your beliefs, and MLK (and other fighters for civil rights) paid a much steeper price than you, in the comfort of your office and plush chair and junkets to the Middle East, could ever imagine paying. When you were my professor, I thought you arrogant, but felt your heart was basically in the right place. Now, you’re just a boorish, reactionary lout–and, given the plethora of libertarian critiques of civil rights laws (as well as Bircheresque criticisms of MLK) an unoriginal one at that.

    • danpeterson

      Thank you for your very kind note.

      In the wake of my vicious and unrestrained attack on Martin Luther King, I scarcely deserve such charity.

      • danpeterson

        Incidentally, though: The plagiarism and the serial adulteries are, so far as I’m aware, not denied by any serious commentator, right or left. (Just for the record.) I’m sorry that it so offends certain people to have them mentioned, such that even an expression of admiration is taken as an attack that merits insults in response.

    • http://None Lew Craig

      Your attack on Dr. Peterson and name calling say more about you than him. In the future, modulate your comments and make them substantive, not the stuff of an elementary school playground.

    • Frank Stevenson

      Dear “a former student says”: Why don’t you give us all your real name?

      • danpeterson

        I have to admit that it would be interesting to know who the dissatisfied “former student” is, and whether or not s/he really is a “former student.” But we’re not likely to find out. Such claims are cheaply made. I regularly read anonymous claims from people who claim to have had some encounter or other with me that is not only false but utterly impossible.

        • Josh Segundo

          Perhaps you could have a Bishop friend of yours do some research. It’s important that we find out who this so called ‘former student’ is at any cost.

    • DL

      This is a piece of reactionary drivel. I’m sorry, but equating liberalism with wickedness just ruined this whole piece for me.

  • http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/ Ron Madson

    I grew up in Maryland just outside of DC. I was in Jr. High and High School during the 60s. I distinctly remember hearing fellow members speak of the “nigger” day. I heard/read church leaders who sat in the chiefest of seats speak of Civil Rights as being a communist movement. I lived in the east where segregation still existed in our schools. I was taught in church that blacks were “fence sitters” in Heaven and cursed of God with their dark skin and that they were clearly spiritually inferior. I confess that I actually believed such nonsense for much too long.

    While in law school I wrote a paper on “Mormonism, Christianity and the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Henry Thoreau was then as now one of my favorite authors. His essay “Duty of Civil Disobedience” was inspiring. I researched/read of powerful examples of men and people exercising unworldly faith and courage in resisting evil through non-violence (Danes during WWII, Gandhi and of course, Martin Luther King). That is when I began to appreciate the beauty of Martin’s adherence to the highest principles of Christianity in passive non-violent resistance.

    So what about today? This past decade twelve years I have observed two cultural traits of American conservative Mormonism–which predominates among Utah mormons—a war lust (support for every war of aggression our nation has engaged in from Viet Nam to the present) and a gun culture that borders on pathological obsession—both of which I find so profoundly inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ taught during his ministry.

    The invitation at the end of the Book of Mormon by Mormon is an invitation to us gentiles to, unlike the Nephites, to not trust in the arm of the flesh, turn to Christ and “bury our weapons deep in the earth.”

    Martin Luther King you were a prophet for our times long before those that pretend to the title even understood that you spoke the words of Christ. Martin you followed instinctively the invitation of those speaking from the dust who knew that trust in the sword (guns) is folly and always ends the same.

    Your words apply today even if ignored by my faith community that largely still believes in American exceptionalism, militarism and personal armaments.

    Not really that focused on sex issues of messengers but rather the content of one’s message (otherwise I would have left the LDS faith some time ago).

    I share as I do each year part of your greatest sermon:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W39gNc677xU

    • http://None Lew Craig

      Ron, I agree with much of what you say. However, the racism you mention was worse outside the church. Rev. King was certainly a prophet to his people and maybe to the rest of us too. The Lord always sends imperfect people to do his work. The perfect ones are not left here.

  • http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/ Ron Madson

    I grew up in Maryland just outside of DC. I was in Jr. High and High School during the 60s. I distinctly remember hearing fellow members speak of the “nigger” day. I heard/read church leaders who sat in the chiefest of seats speak of Civil Rights as being a communist movement. I lived in the east where segregation still existed in our schools. I was taught in church that blacks were “fence sitters” in Heaven and cursed of God with their dark skin and that they were clearly spiritually inferior. I confess that I actually believed such nonsense for much too long.

    While in law school I wrote a paper on “Mormonism, Christianity and the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Henry Thoreau was then as now one of my favorite authors. His essay “Duty of Civil Disobedience” was inspiring. I researched/read of powerful examples of men and people exercising unworldly faith and courage in resisting evil through non-violence (Danes during WWII, Gandhi and of course, Martin Luther King). That is when I began to appreciate the beauty of Martin’s adherence to the highest principles of Christianity in passive non-violent resistance.

    So what about today? This past decade twelve years I have observed two cultural traits of American conservative Mormonism–which predominates among Utah mormons—a war lust (support for every war of aggression our nation has engaged in from Viet Nam to the present) and a gun culture that borders on pathological obsession—both of which I find so profoundly inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ taught during his ministry.

    The invitation at the end of the Book of Mormon by Mormon is an invitation to us gentiles to, unlike the Nephites, to not trust in the arm of the flesh, turn to Christ and “bury our weapons deep in the earth.”

    Martin Luther King you were a prophet for our times long before those that pretend to the title even understood that you spoke the words of Christ. Martin you followed instinctively the invitation of those speaking from the dust who knew that trust in the sword (guns) is folly and always ends the same.

    Your words apply today even if ignored by my faith community that largely still believes in American exceptionalism, militarism and personal armaments.

    Not really that focused on sex issues of messengers but rather the content of one’s message (otherwise I would have left the LDS faith some time ago).

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The problem with assuming that the free market would correct the problem of denying goods and services to blacks is that many prejudiced “white” people valued other things above money. For many whotes at the low end of the economic pecking order, ensuring that blacks were suppressed in their freedoms was important to their own self-esteem. They had inherited from their ancestors along the Scottish-English border a sense of honor that was very sensitive to insult and disrespect, and drove them to duels (several in the case of Andrew Jackson) and to longstanding blood feuds (such as the Hatfieds vs.the McCoys). The defeat of the South by Union troops who freed the slaves, including black soldiers, and the years of Reconstruction when former slaves were given advantages and opportunities many poor whites lacked, created a culture of resentment that burst out in the reaction of Jim Crow segregation and the Ku Klux Klan. The “honor” of such whites was more important to the them han money.

    Segregation was felt intensely when blacks attempted to travel long distances in the South. Establishments that would sell them food and gasoline and a room were often great distances apart. The 1964 Civil Rights Act focused on the Interstate Commerce Clause as.the central justification for Federal intervention in businesses typically regulated only by state.or local government.

    If there was not a widespread.conspiracy to keep blacks as second class citizens, perhaps free markets could have better formed equal accommodations.Unfortunarely, social pressures caused white businessmen to act contrary to their own financial interests.

    • raedyohed

      “If there was not a widespread.conspiracy to keep blacks as second class citizens, perhaps free markets could have better formed equal accommodations.Unfortunarely, social pressures caused white businessmen to act contrary to their own financial interests.”

      Raymond,
      Your thoughts do a fair job pointing out the rock and hard place oppressed blacks were in. But the conclusion is a striking logical covnvulsion. PArt of teh problem lies in your equation of money and markets. Markets are exchanges of value, and as you point out, whites values many other things. Many of the factors you mention are part of the market of segregation, but you fail to make a crucial distinction between “free” markets where there is no coercion, and markets operating under the distorting effect of the threat of violence.

      Your entire argument rests on evidence cited which points universally to the leveraging of government violence by whites in order to gain advantage over blacks. This, by the way also explains racism in general, as a tool of social coercion for the sake of gaining an advantage over others not like themselves. But then your conclusion summarizes your case as if you had proven that “free” markets were the clear failure. Not so, according to everything else in your argument. That is, unless your argument was that free markets cannot succeed when government violence is being used to distort social and economic behavior. But this goes without saying, since markets where government violence is being used to gain advantages are by definition not free.

      In other words, I believe your conclusion, and your entire post would be correct if only a few minor changes were made: “If there was not a widespread conspiracy [to leverage the coercive violence of the state] to keep blacks as second class citizens, perhaps free markets could have [existed, allowing for] better formed equal accommodations. Unfortunately, social [and economic] pressures [generated through self-interested policing and legislating] caused white businessmen to act contrary to their own financial interests.” That’s not to say that the absence of state violence from the scenario would necessarily have made the equally coercive problem of racism go away, but it won’t do to ignore the fact that state violence was still the weapon of choice in this case. And free markets, as pertaining to blacks in the south were nowhere to be found.

      • Nathaniel

        “…covnvulsion. PArt of teh …”

        Good heavens, save us from teh typos. For shame.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I believe the text of the speech should be available at the web page of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.The Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam War Memorial, and features a quote from Amos that was used in King’s famous speech, “Let justice flow down like waters”.

  • Wade Davis

    There is doubtless a time and a place for recognizing the flaws of our historical heroes. You lack a sense of either.

    • danpeterson

      I disagree.

      But our world is richly blessed in having a person in it, such as yourself, who refuses to point to the flaws of others.

      • Wade Davis

        Maybe you can bellyache of such when there is a Daniel Peterson day, and I take a public crap on it.

        • danpeterson

          I’m fascinated by what I see as a very weird response from you and several others to a post that argues that, despite his flaws, Martin Luther King was a great man.

          • Wade Davis

            I am fascinated by the fact that you can’t fathom, with all of your great learning and intelligence, how it would be inappropriate to celebrate the accomplishments of a great American with several swipes at his character and memory. One can only imagine that you have no trouble with “laudatory” rhetoric that begins with similar indictments of their character. So, I can expect that the great man Joseph Smith, Jr. will receive a birthday post from you next year with such high praise as this: Joseph Smith, Jr. lied repeatedly to his wife and followers about his multiple relationships with members of the opposite sex. He destroyed a printing press and, early in his career, pretended he could find treasure with the aid of magic. Still, he was a great man.”

            I have yet to see such a post by Daniel Peterson, and I doubt I ever will. Such is his fairness to all.

  • Wade Davis

    “We need people who drink clear water, live transparent lives, and are also good orators.”

    Doubtless so, but we could also use less parading of the faults of others. Sadly our culture delights in pointing fingers, even on a day when many celebrate the great contributions of the person in question. I don’t take delight in people marking the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth by pointing out his flaws, nor do I delight in those doing the same to Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson. It is interesting how in the minds of some Dr. King is an exception to this kind of small grace that might be afforded those who have given their country so much. I am disappointed that this post was published at this time. Very disappointed.

  • Sam Smith

    “the blurring of his Civil Rights mission and his dalliance with various leftist causes in his latter years”

    Don’t get hasty. It wasn’t a blur. He saw them as the same thing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96d_CzrfxsM

  • Quickmere Graham

    Excellent points, Raymond and Ron. Of course, by disagreeing with Daniel you’ve simply given him yet another opportunity to respond with hyperbolic misrepresentation of what you actually said. Call it “The Daniel Deflection”:

    “Oh, I am so utterly devious and evil, I am the worst! See what I did there? You disagreed with me, so I pretended as though you were saying much worse things about me, lumping you in with other people who say mean things about me, so as not to have to deal with what you actually said.”

  • the narrator

    Dang. I accidentally deleted the narrator’s (Loyd Erickson’s) post here. What follows is my reply.

    Dan Peterson

    Hostile and nasty as ever, Loyd.

    Had your response not been so automatic and Pavlovian, you might have noticed my self-description as a quasi-libertarian who puts a very high premium, even at the cost of moral improvements that I myself would see as thoroughly desirable (and even personally beneficial), on the freedom of the individual. You might also have noticed my denunciation of Jim Crow laws and segregation as immoral, and my commendation of Dr. King for his central role in getting rid of them. And you might have observed my explanation that governments have no business discriminating on the basis of race — which would be, among other things, a direct contradiction to my quasi-libertarian and very limited-government principles.

    How you can extrapolate from such statements to a supposed complacency with slavery on my part, and to accusing me of seeing the repeal of what I explicitly described as illegitimate and grievous intrusions upon liberty as, itself, “freedom-crushing,” is a tribute to your comprehensive personal hostility toward me, but, sadly, not to your reading or reasoning ability.

    Still, the attempt to link me to the Klan is rather typical of your approach, so that, while it’s certainly possible that somebody is masquerading as you in an attempt to damage your reputation and make you look foolish, that seems unlikely.

    • Stephen Smoot

      I have a feeling there’s some type of Godwin’s Law violation going on here, Eric. I disagree with Dan that the free market would have just corrected social injustice like segregated businesses on its own, but to insinuate that he’s a Klan member because he believes such is, well, ridiculous. It doesn’t serve your credibility well to compare your opponent with a member of a murderous gang of racist thugs. Just sayin’.

      • the narrator

        I don’t think today’s Klansmen are murderous. Or at least I don’t hear about it in the news. Dan?

        • danpeterson

          The narrator is named “Loyd Erickson.” He is an employee of Signature Books, and isn’t representing them at all well.

          I’ve had enough of his incivility.

          • the narrator

            Bad form Dan. Really bad form.

          • danpeterson

            No, the really bad form is having inadvertently replaced your initial very nasty post here when I only intended to reply to it.

            Your personally insulting and utterly baseless initial post should have remained as an exhibit for others to marvel at.

      • the narrator

        To be clear, I don’t think Dan is a Klansmen. Only that he would be welcome as a keynote speaker at their meetings.

        • danpeterson

          the narrator is an exceedingly nasty piece of work. And consistently so. He has a very difficult time disagreeing civilly, and tends, in my too-lengthy experience with him at least, to prefer to demonize his target and to treat the other person as human trash.

          I’ve seen this from him for a long time, but, on this particular occasion, he’s really crossed a line. Genuinely contemptible.

          • the narrator

            Dang. I erased Loyd Erickson’s post again. It was, I swear, inadvertent. I pressed “edit” rather than “reply.” But perhaps there’s some overarching Purpose in it. Perhaps my fingers are wiser than my head:

            You’ve become an ass, Loyd. Perhaps you were always one and I just didn’t recognize it.

  • RT

    “Martin Luther King was a seriously flawed man. The plagiarism in his doctoral dissertation, the adulteries, the blurring of his Civil Rights mission and his dalliance with various leftist causes in his latter years — these were and are unfortunate.”

    It’s fascinating to me that these are all areas in which JS has been fiercely criticized–theological and textual borrowing from various sources in the construction of his revelations, a tendency for sexual liasons outside of his original marriage, and involvement with various left and right wing political projects. But these wouldn’t be the first thing you mention when assessing his legacy, no?

    I am in agreement that MLK should not be worshiped or seen as immune to any criticism whatsoever, but DP, this post reflects a poor sense of timing and a kind of overweening and dogmatic political and religious sensibility.

    • danpeterson

      Not surprisingly, I disagree.

      I think that pointing out that someone can be a great man despite personal flaws is perfectly appropriate on a day honoring him.

      I feel precisely the same way about Gandhi, by the way.

      He was a very poor husband and father, apparently (at least, according to Ved Mehta’s biography of him, which is all that I think I’ve read), but he was, in certain other obvious ways, a transformative and very great man. From whom, incidentally, Martin Luther King learned a lot.

      • RG

        So to clarify, these would be the first things you would mention in assessing Joseph Smith’s legacy?

        • danpeterson

          No. And here’s why: The claim that Joseph Smith plagiarized the Book of Mormon is, along with the claim that he was an adulterer, a very disputed and controversial one that tends to be part of the standard anti-Mormon attack on him. I would not formulate the argument that, though he invented polygamy to satisfy his lusts and plagiarized Solomon Spalding in order to create a phony scripture that would dupe the yokels, Joseph was still a great prophet. Such an argument would be, in my view, incoherent.

          The situation is different with Martin Luther King. His plagiarism and his adulteries are, so far as I’m aware, undenied by any serious student of his life. And there’s no particular controversy about them. No “Kingite” sect is claiming that his dissertation is actually revealed scripture or that his adulteries occurred by divine command. More importantly, it’s entirely coherent to argue that, despite his personal failings, Martin Luther King was a very great moral voice on one of the greatest issues in American history. That is, in fact, the argument I was making — and for which I’m being attacked.

          • RG

            Accepting the premise that MLK’s plagiarism and adulteries are not disputed, why would you begin a post on MLK day by mentioning those things first; and why conclude the very first paragraph with Ether 10:11?

          • Wade Davis

            According to the laws of the states he was living in, there is absolutely no question that Joseph Smith was an adulterer. I am sure you would agree to this fact every time, upon the celebration of the day of his birth, someone were to point this out, instead of engaging in a theological quibble about the divine morality of the prophet obeying the command of God over the law of the land.

          • danpeterson

            I have no problem with discussing early Mormon polygamy.

            The difference is that, while everybody agrees that MLK’s plagiarism and adulteries represented moral failures on his part — I’m aware of not a single exception — not everybody agrees that plural marriage represented a moral failure on the part of Joseph Smith. That is, in fact, a hotly debated issue.

            Please try to calm down and be reasonable.

          • Wade Davis

            I think it is entirely reasonable to note that you are unusually condemnatory of Martin Luther King’s memory and character on the very day when most people celebrate his contributions to our nation. It is also entirely reasonable to note that you treat Joseph Smith quite differently, and in fact devote much of your time decrying the unfairness of those who remark upon certain blemishes to his historical memory. That you spent this one post on King doing to him what you see as unfair in others’ treatment of Smith reveals bias and has the distinct appearance of racism. I don’t think your sophistry about the consensus on King’s adultery counts for anything. I also don’t think any reasonable, informed person could contest the fact that Joseph Smith, Jr. engaged in money-digging. I hope your next laudatory post of Smith opens with a recognition of that historical fact. Otherwise, I am afraid you will appear most biased and unjust.

          • danpeterson

            “Racism”? “Sophistry”?

            You’re trying my patience, Wade Davis.

            Seth offered an example of civil disagreement. Study it and learn.

          • Wade Davis

            Let me help you: “appearance of racism.” “Sophistry?” Yes. The issue is not whether the information you have written about King was factual. This is a red herring. Ergo, sophistry. What is at issue is your focus on negative aspects of King’s memory on Martin Luther King Day, when you have, to my memory, never given similar treatment to one of your own heroes. Most notably, Joseph Smith, Jr. Your decision to focus to such an extent on the negative aspects of King’s memory accords well with the Right’s tradition of only grudgingly acknowledging King’s contribution and actively opposing its public commemoration in any official way. Given the political views you regularly promulgate in this blog, this entry fits. Still, it is regrettable that at this late date you can’t bring yourself to celebrate the great champion of American civil rights in the late 20th century without qualification. It’s actually quite sad.

          • danpeterson

            You’ve made your point. I disagree.

            You’ve insulted me repeatedly. Fine, that’s your right. (Though not necessarily on my blog.)

            And you’re sad for me. That, too, is your right. But I think you’ve made your point often enough now. You might want to consider suffering silently on my behalf from here on out.

          • Wade Davis

            You disagree that you have never written a similar post about another one of your personal heroes. I look forward to you providing a link to that post so I and others can read it.

          • danpeterson

            The essay I mentioned is intended for a book. I said that. Read what I write. Or don’t comment on it.

  • Stephen Smoot

    “The narrator is named “Loyd Erickson.””

    That’s right. I knew that. My mistake. Don’t know where “Eric” came from. Must have been thinking of his last name and garbled it.

    Still, his calling you a member of the KKK wasn’t cool. Or, to use his wording, it’s “bad form”. You’re right that he isn’t representing Signature Books well.

    • the narrator

      Well someone now is commenting with my name. It seems to be Dan, he’s probably just not used to modern technology.

      And to be clear, I wasn’t saying that Dan was a member of the KKK. If I was, then I would have been saying that I was one too. That’s would be crazy, since I’m actually a Black Panther.

      And it’s really bad from to reveal or discuss someone’s IRL (name In Real Life).

      • JohnH

        Because Dan Peterson is not his In Real Life name….

      • danpeterson

        It’s far worse form, Loyd, to be so nasty and abusive in your comments. I’ve had enough of them. Several years now. But by linking me with the Klan, and by suggesting that I’m sympathetic to segregation and slavery, you’ve crossed a line that you absolutely shouldn’t have crossed, and that any decent person would KNOW he shouldn’t cross.

        • the narrator

          Dan, I wasn’t being nasty and abusive. I was using a reductio ad absurdem to highlight the absurdity of your reasoning.

          And, I didn’t suggest you were sympathetic to slavery and segregation. I suggested that your rationale against Civil Rights legislation was akin to a rationale against ending slavery and segregation through legislation.

          And your Klanish rhetoric is your fault, not mine. I didn’t write this silly post.

          Was my comment a bit harsh? Probably. Even rude? Maybe. But I just kept supposing that is the tone you are going for from all of your other posts.

          Let’s consider this to be our last interaction.

          And please, please, please stop spreading lies about me. It’s getting annoying.

          • danpeterson

            Loyd Erickson: “Dan, I wasn’t being nasty and abusive. I was using a reductio ad absurdem to highlight the absurdity of your reasoning.”

            If that was your intent, you need some remedial work in elementary logic.

            Lloyd Erickson: “And, I didn’t suggest you were sympathetic to slavery and segregation. I suggested that your rationale against Civil Rights legislation was akin to a rationale against ending slavery and segregation through legislation.”

            Opposition to Civil Rights legislation that is expressly derived from an opposition to State coercion in general cannot reasonably be extrapolated into acceptance of State-imposed slavery and segregation. The two are polar opposites.

            Think, Loyd. Think. You might find it helpful from time to time.

            Lloyd Erickson: “And your Klanish rhetoric is your fault, not mine. I didn’t write this silly post.”

            There’s no “Klanish rhetoric” in my post. The KKK isn’t a bunch of white-robed libertarians. You can’t possibly know anything about them if that’s what you suppose.

            Lloyd Erickson: “Was my comment a bit harsh? Probably. Even rude? Maybe. But I just kept supposing that is the tone you are going for from all of your other posts.”

            As I say, you’re an ass.

            Lloyd Erickson: “Let’s consider this to be our last interaction.’

            Yes, let’s!

            Lloyd Erickson: “And please, please, please stop spreading lies about me. It’s getting annoying.”

            I’ve spread no lies about you.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Along with Jim Crtow laws that put the power f government behind segregation, there were private egal ibstruments like racial covenants running with the title to land. A grandfather could distribute his property in a will,but with a reversibary clause that would terminaye the estate and give ownership o a third person if one of his heirs ever sdold his iterest to a black person.There were racial covenants even in northern states that prohibited people from selling their homes to a black family. Legal instruments allowed those who were nastiest toimpise their will on people who were not prejudiced but lacked the energy to break the legal bonds of such covenants.

    The public speeches of Martin Luther King appealed to the common Christian faith of Americans, and did not partake of the kind of racial benefit politics that has worked against the progress and success of individual blacks and black families since his death. He was a martyr, a witness for his cause, just as Joseph Smith was.

  • danpeterson

    Several here have disputed my suggestion that the market would tend to work against racist businesses, etc.

    The most intelligent and articulate of the disputants has been Raymond Takashi Swenson.

    Here’s a response:

    I disagree with virtually nothing that he writes.

    I don’t believe, and never said, that the market would eliminate racist business practices immediately, or even soon. I said that it would tend, over time, to punish racist business. The mills of the gods work slowly, it’s said, but they grind exceedingly fine. The market has been a universal solvent that has, over time, tended to erode and modify and marginalize many things, some of them bad (e.g., racial discrimination in business) and some of them good (e.g., the extended family and the family farm). It’s like a powerful but slow-moving river. Say, the Mississippi, or the Colorado River — the latter of which doesn’t actually look like much, but eventually creates the Grand Canyon. On the other hand, it can move very quickly. Once people see how well calculators work, slide rules disappear. Video cassettes, recently very popular, are now very hard to find. It’s not impossible that racially exclusive restaurants, once they saw that an otherwise comparable but racially inclusive restaurant was prospering more than they were, would have moved to emulate it.

    Still, as Brother Swenson observes, change in the South faced profound cultural obstacles that interfered with the free operation of markets. The antebellum South, culturally marked by a Scots-Irish plantation- and warrior-aristocracy, remained in some respects almost more medievally feudal than Enlightenment capitalist. (That ethos survives still today in the disproportionate success of military recruiting in the Southern states, for example.) Slavery was certainly not a capitalist invention, let alone a manifestation of a free and libertarian market. And, even after Reconstruction, there continued to be anti-market cultural elements that worked both to oppress blacks and to impoverish the region generally. The image of the South as “backward” was not unearned — though there were other aspects of the South (as there were of pre-capitalist medieval Europe) that were and are admirable.

    My argument was and is, simply, that the tendency of the market is to work, ruthlessly and remorselessly, against things that cannot be economically justified. And that certainly includes racism. (Some scholars have argued that slavery itself was doomed in the long term, without war, because of market forces.)

    But please recall that the economic point was subsidiary to a much more important moral point: I believe that people are free — within certain obvious broad legal limits — to act in ways that I myself regard as wrong, self-destructive, and even immoral. Racism is, in my expressed view (notwithstanding the efforts of some here to portray me as a racist and a Klan sympathizer), profoundly immoral. But so are several other things that I would never seek to criminalize.

    • RG

      Dan, assuming that the market, “over time,” will work these problems out, what do you have to say to those who have the misfortune of living in situations where the market hasn’t yet worked these problems out?

      • danpeterson

        My reaction would vary from case to case. The Nazis, for example, represented so urgent a threat that, obviously, extra-market solutions had to be found. Other situations are either not so urgent or not so severe, and waiting is just fine.

        Slavery, some have argued, might have lasted only another generation or two. It was, they claim, not economically viable. That would have been two generations too long, of course. But then again, the Civil War was extraordinarily bloody and destructive. Might waiting for a non-violent end to slavery have been preferable? People of good will can debate this — and there would be no call for a Loyd Erickson (“the narrator”) to show up, accusing the gradualists of being Klan-sympathizers and the like.

        • RG

          So I am to understand that your reseponse to people living in situations where the market has not worked these problems out is to “wait a generation or two”? (Unless of course it is so extreme as in the case of the Nazis, and only possibly in the case of slavery.)

          • danpeterson

            No, not really. I suspect that you’re seeking a straw man to attack. I’m not inclined to help you construct one. You’re on your own.

        • kaph

          Interestingly, it would appear God is a gradualist, as you put it. But there have always been some who refuse the concept of growing from grace to grace –with the necessary suffering and potential for failure– and instead insist bypassing the growth that results from the painful learning experience.

          Star Trek fans know “the prime directive” and it’s always thought as applying to “the other”. We deny our individual and societal learning experience and growth when we violate this directive and frequently seek to implement the solution without having experienced the growth that comes from doing the work. In the case of racism, forcing a solution to place the races on equal footing may have come at the cost of destroying the black family for generations to come.

  • Erich Zann

    Narrator,
    I understand that having the audience here know you by your real name could be disadvantageous to you, but I’m curious why you think Peterson had some obligation to not reveal that information.

    • danpeterson

      I agree that the general principle is not to reveal real names. But the narrator’s identity is and has long been an open secret all over the Internet. And, anyway, I’ve been a target of his nastiness for several years now. He follows me to message boards and to my blog to make remarkably insulting and unjust comments about me by name, and it seems to me that, under the circumstances, I’m under no strong obligation not to publicly stigmatize him for doing so. (Although, for that matter, in his circles it’ll probably make him a hero and a martyr. Suggesting that Dan Peterson is or would be comfortable with segregation, slavery, and the Klan may well count for moral courage and great insight among his friends. I’ve probably done him a favor.)

  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Gerald Smith

    Seems like Chris H wrote a nasty diatribe about Dan on FPR, but then it was removed. There, he stated, “Like Martin Luther King was, Dan Peterson is a seriously flawed person. Unlike MLK, Peterson is not remarkably brave. However, he has move into the realm of John Bircher right-wing extremism. This is not uncommon amongst Mormons. It is the realm of Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck…”
    My experiences with Chris H online usually end with him trumping me by using foul language. I’m not sure if he’s one of your former students, Dan, but it definitely sounds like him….

  • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

    Hi Dan,

    Interesting post. One thing I think you have overlooked — or perhaps simply decided not to address in this post — is how MLK is as much of a symbol as he is a historical person. MLK is a symbol for the struggle for civil rights. MLK day, in my view, is not meant to honor MLK as a man but rather, to honor the importance of his ideas regarding equality, non-violence, etc…

    MLK’s flaws have little, if anything, to do with his ideas or his influence on the continued march towards equality.

    I agree that MLKs flaws should be studied openly and thoroughly. I’m not convinced, however, that the MLK holiday — meant to celebrate his ideas and the success of civil rights — is the right time to explore those flaws. Just like discussing Joseph Smith’s polyandry in sacrament meeting would be offensive to many Church members, discussing MLK’s flaws on MLK day is equally offensive.

    Just my $.02

    Seth

    • danpeterson

      Thank you, Seth, for a temperate and reasonable post that doesn’t seek to demonize me. You offer a model that others could emulate.

      I see your point, and, to a large extent, I agree with it.

      I actually thought, though, and I continue to think, that recognizing the greatness of Dr. King (and saying that it consists specifically in his work for Civil Rights) is an appropriate tribute, and that recognizing his well-known weaknesses doesn’t diminish him in that regard.

      People of good will can differ on this sort of thing, of course. But I’m frankly shocked at those who prefer to view my post as an attack on Dr. King, rather than as a tribute, and who then proceed to attack me in sometimes rather vicious terms for having written it. I expressly included myself in the “flawed” category with him, and explicitly said that the only hope for either of us is a merciful God.

      I could easily imagine myself writing an essay in which I speak of the flaws of, say, George Washington — in fact, I have it in mind to write precisely such a piece down the line a ways — but describe his greatness notwithstanding those flaws.

      • Wade Davis

        I would like you to point me to any post you have written on one of your personal heroes that contains so many qualifications and unflattering facts as this post in “honor” of Dr. King. It is one thing to say that you could “imagine yourself” writing such a post on George Washington in the future. Unless you already have written such a post about one of your personal heroes, however, that means next to nothing. It seems to me that Joseph Smith, Jr. is comparable to you as a figure deserving of praise, but whose life and career were peppered with problematic activities. Had you once written of the Prophet as you now write of King, I might take this seriously. As it stands, it is difficult to look at this as anything more than a small fig leaf.

        • danpeterson

          You’ve made your point, Wade Davis. And now you’re accusing me of dishonesty, or at least of disingenuous. The fact is that I’ve already begun work on precisely the essay that I described, which I hope will form part of an eventual book. You can disbelieve it if you will.

          And this is, quite generally, my approach. Even to the scriptures. I’ve taught lessons in which I’ve spoken of Nephi’s pride, Moroni’s too-quick temper, and the like. I think the young future patriach Joseph was arrogant, that Joseph Smith was sometimes too naïvely trusting, etc. These were all flawed men. It doesn’t bother me to acknowledge it. Not a bit.

          • Wade Davis

            I trust what I have seen. I am not relying on promises given at a convenient moment. You say that it doesn’t bother you to acknowledge the flaws of your heroes. It would have helped if you could have pointed to one post in which you mentioned these flaws in anything like the serious and fulsome degree that you have in Dr. King’s case. I note that you have not and you show no intention of even trying to do so. That speaks for itself.

            Any serious student of Mormon history could readily point to problematic behavior on Smith’s part that went far beyond being “too naïvely trusting.” Yet this is all you can muster. That speaks for itself.

          • danpeterson

            Make of it what you will. I don’t have any confidence in your judgment, based on what I’ve seen from you, so I can hardly complain that you have none in mine.

          • Wade Davis

            Our confidence in your judgment can be measured by the manifest lack of wisdom you exhibited in publishing this post on Martin Luther King Day.

          • danpeterson

            You seem to be a bit obsessive, Wade Davis. Give it a rest. Go out and do something good for somebody. Or get a dog.

          • Wade Davis

            I do good for people all the time. As I imagine you do. I also own a dog. Two in fact. I am no more or less obsessive than you, as is plainly evident in your persistence in responding to my comments.

          • danpeterson

            Actually, it seems to me that there are good reasons to depict you as obsessive and me as not obsessive.

            There are billions of people in the world; you’ve chosen to write a considerable number of posts excoriating me for your misinterpretation of what I wrote on my blog.

            There’s only one person in the world, by contrast, for whom I can write in my own self defense. I’ve written roughly the same number of posts responding to your criticisms that you’ve written to criticize me.

            No reasonable person is likely to see your attacking me and my defending myself as equally “obsessive” or even equivalently motivated: You freely choose to criticize me; my decision to defend myself against your criticism is plainly not so entirely whimsical as your choice is.

      • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

        Dan,

        Tread carefully with Washington as well. You may end up ticking off a few of your more conservative readers! :)

        Authors have noted that both Washington and King have gone through some process of social apotheosis. Not because they were perfect men but rather, because both of these men had virtues that has spurred great reverence.

        I mean…. the Capitol has artwork showing Washington becoming a god!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Apotheosis_of_Washington

        Seth

  • RG

    I think we ran out of “reply” space above, so I’ll repost this here:

    Accepting the premise that MLK’s plagiarism and adulteries are not disputed, why would you begin a post on MLK day by mentioning those things first; and why conclude the very first paragraph with Ether 10:11?

    • danpeterson

      Because my thesis was that flawed people can nonetheless be great.

      It would have been difficult to have done that without acknowledging flaws, and mentioning them in reverse order would more plausibly have been seen as an attempt to bring Dr. King down (“he was great BUT . . .”).

      Of course, some of the commentators here haven’t needed even a fig leaf of plausibility to accuse me of racism, sophistry, sympathy for segregation and slavery and the Klan, and etc.

      • RG

        Because my thesis was that flawed people can nonetheless be great.

        It would have been difficult to have done that without acknowledging flaws, and mentioning them in reverse order would more plausibly have been seen as an attempt to bring Dr. King down (“he was great BUT . . .”).
        Surely there are other ways of acknowleding his flaws. I think even if you kept in the first two sentences and moved them into what is now the third to the last paragarph, this whole post would have read much differently.

        • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

          I actually think the net effect is in favor of Dr. King with those lines at the beginning. When I read a review of a product on Amazon, I can frequently tell what the reviewer’s verdict is before I finish the first sentence because the phrasing predicts it.

          “I wanted to like this banana slicer, …”
          “Most people are quick to point out the weaknesses in this program’s features, …”
          “Yes, it has howling wolves on it. Yes, it looks like something you’d see on a red-neck. Yes, you shouldn’t wear it at a funeral. …”
          “Technically, you wouldn’t need a gadget like this in your kitchen. …”

          You can anticipate the “but” following each of these openings. You can tell with 95% certainty that the reviewer is about to spend the balance of his review arguing the opposite position. That’s the sense I got with this post as well.

        • danpeterson

          And, yes, RG, I should always let you read what I write before I publish it.

          (Has it occurred to you that I wrote it the way I did because that’s the way I wanted to write it, and that I don’t think the really harsh criticisms of my little post have much intellectual or moral credibility? Because that would, in fact, be the truth.)

  • RG

    Me: So I am to understand that your reseponse to people living in situations where the market has not worked these problems out is to “wait a generation or two”? (Unless of course it is so extreme as in the case of the Nazis, and only possibly in the case of slavery.)

    Dan: No, not really. I suspect that you’re seeking a straw man to attack. I’m not inclined to help you construct one. You’re on your own.

    I’m really not looking to make a straw man here. I’m just trying to understand your argument.

    • danpeterson

      My point is simply that some situations require extra-market interventions, that some don’t, that judgments about which is which have to be made on a case-by-case basis, and that good and reasonable people will sometimes disagree.

      • RG

        I follow you; but I don’t understand how make these judgments and how you justify them to those who might be on the receiving end of said judgments.

        • danpeterson

          Precisely the same way you do. And, presumably like you, I’m not an absolute monarch who makes them on my own. It’s a collective judgment by society/societies and government(s). And sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t.

          • RG

            Ok; but I’m having a hard time thinking of a case where “wait a generation or two” would be a satisfying answer to anyone on the receiving end. Perhaps you can think of one?

          • danpeterson

            I’m having a hard time thinking that every desirable social change needs to involve state coercion, up to and including war.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    The exciting, expanding and thought provoking science of genetics and specifically the Genographic Project initiated in 2005, continues to shed light on world population migratory patterns. There have been nearly 500,000 public participants including 7,500 indigenous participants taking part in the project. The accumulated data shows distinct migratory patterns originating on the African continent some 60,000 years ago.

    If one believes these data and that skin color is but an environmental adaptation expressing itself over thousands of generations, and that we all share the same ancient ancestry, then skin color and other physiological features become meaningless. The important information such studies offer our world may someday put an end to racism or at least make excuses for racism highly suspect in the public conscience.

    • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

      Very cool. I hope your optimism wins out. I suspect, though, that people will find a different narrative to find a quasi-scientific basis for their prejudices. “So you’ve demonstrated we all have common ancestry, which means I can’t argue that we evolved separately to superiority? Well then, I’ll argue that after our common ancestor, your group has begun the process of devolving to inferiority.” I hope you’re right, though. :-)

  • http://andreachristensen.com Andrea

    Dr. Peterson,

    I very much enjoyed this article, and found in reading through the comments the same problem I always come up against when wanting to discuss Dr. King. – that is that people either love him so ardently that they brush aside any character flaws as inconsequential to who he was, or they despise him so severely that no courage or inspiration he lent to the civil rights movement can redeem him. I am a post-civil-rights person, and do not understand emotionally the meaning of the movement or Dr. King’s role. But on an intellectual level I have never been able to reconcile his famous quote that one day people will be judged based on the ‘content of their character, and not the color of their skin,’ with the fact that his character was so amazingly flawed, but no one is willing to address that (civilly, and with a fair assessment of the entire content of his character).

    But this article did just that. I appreciate the scriptural reference to the Nephite King, and the insight that such people, flawed as they are, can still do great things in this world, and inspire entire cultures to do great things as well.

    I personally take great comfort in the scripture that no unclean thing can dwell with God – not because it is a condemning scripture, but it as great equalizer of all of our flaws and sins. We cannot point to another and say “Well, I’m not as bad off as him,” for our own sins are just as grievous. At the same time, we cannot say “Well, that person’s greatness (or good qualities) negates their sins.” We all need the atonement to be redeemed. But we must choose wisely those we admire, and the way in which we admire them.

    • danpeterson

      Thank you!

      You got it. You understand what I wrote, and the spirit in which I wrote it.

      I was beginning to give up hope.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    It occurred to me that a possible benefit of discussing MLK’s flaws on the day that celebrates him is to counter similar discussions that are inevitably happening. That is, if it is inevitably going to be brought up, might as well model how to acknowledge it without entirely dismissing the person’s life work. A MLK Day post that only discussed his flaws would be inappropriate. But for a reader who’s been taken in by dismissive hypercritics of MLK, this kind of post which mentions his flaws while highlighting the undeniable good may be exactly what they need to hear.

    • danpeterson

      Good point. Thanks.

  • danpeterson

    For my detractors:

    I’m about to begin several hours of consecutive office consultations, individual reading courses, and lecture classes. I won’t be available during that time to enjoy your charges of racism, Klan-sympathies, dishonesty, sophistry, support for segregation and slavery, and so forth.

    Feel free, however, to continue to reiterate them here, if you’re so inclined. I may or may not delete your comments when I return. Enough eventually becomes enough.

    • Prometheus

      I guess there is no censorship quite like self censorship. Right Dan?

      • danpeterson

        On the whole, it’s the only kind of which I approve.

        People who blurt out every passing brain event, however stupid, hateful, or damaging, don’t strike me as especially praiseworthy in that regard.

  • Joe

    I cannot recall where I heard it, but someone has said in the past that a eulogy is where we all get together and tell lies about the dead person. And isn’t it true! At a funeral, we don’t get together and directly address head on all the flaws of a person.

    In this light, the insistence of some that flaws not be mentioned at all on MLK day seems to indicate that this day to them is simply an encore of MLK’s funeral! (And for some, any day of the year is inappropriate to discuss MLK shortcomings, and I suppose for them life is one continual perpetual MLK funeral, where you can come and go, but when you enter the funeral parlor of MLK discussion, you must speak only in respectful, reverent, hushed tones.)

    However, in actual funerals, it is OK if flaws are mentioned, if they are kept brief and vague and they are placed on the left side of a BUT — “yes, he was flawed, BUT ….” — a leadup to why the guy was alright anyway, or as a lead-in to how the Atonement covers everyone; which is appropriate. But this insistence that no flaws be mentioned at all goes beyond even the perpetual funeral eulogy and enters the realm of worship – if not deification, at least canonization.

    It may have been I heard or read the saying about eulogy being lies in Orson Scott Card’s intro to one of the Ender novels, probably Speaker for the Dead. Or, it may not have been.

    In any case, ever since reading Speaker for the Dead, I have loved the concept of a “speaking” delivered by a “Speaker” – one who “[researches] the dead person’s life and give a speech that attempts to speak for them, describing the person’s life as he or she tried to live it. This speech is not given in order to persuade the audience to condemn or forgive the deceased, but rather a way to understand the person as a whole, including any flaws or misdeeds.” (Quote from Wikipedia entry Speaker for the Dead).

    In a sense, Dan, you’ve given a very short “speaking” for brother King.

    I, for one, appreciate it. Thank you.

    -Joe

    In the realm of complete coincidence, and word associations, this discussion recalled to mind another funeral sermon delivered after the death of a different beloved brother King.

    • Wade Davis

      An encore of the person’s funeral? Why yes! And what, pray tell, is wrong with that? Indeed, a remembrance of people who have passed is bound to be a lot like a funeral service. Because they are dead. Because we honor their memory. Your comment strikes me as rather odd in that you find such a tribute somehow inappropriate. No one insists that the person’s historical memory be whitewashed. That is not the point. It is, rather, that on certain occasions we rejoice in the good the person has done without dwelling on, or placing up front, his or her faults. I think that is entirely reasonable and tasteful. I disagree with the view that the way this blog post was constructed was tasteful considering the occasion upon which it was published.

      • Joe

        I didn’t say I find such a tribute inappropriate. You seem to insist on interpreting other’s words in the least favorable light. Making MLK a funeral encore is OK with me.

        What I *did* say is that even at funerals, it is OK to “admit” that the deceased was flawed or imperfect, so long as it’s on the left-side of a BUT which is followed by honoring the person anyway. In other words, there’s a formula for acceptable funeral mention of a persons flaws, and the structure is
        BUT ( and/or ).

        And that is precisely what Dan’s blog entry does. His blog says, in short “MLK was seriously flawed, BUT I honor Martin Luther King and I marvel at what he accomplished, and I leave the judging to a merciful God”.
        I do not find what he wrote inappropriate for a funeral encore of an important, controversial figure. Not only is it not inappropriate, it follows the “proper” formula quite nicely.

        What I did suggest is inappropriate is virtual worship and deification of an person who has a long way to go before he’s ready for deification.

        Now, as a good Mormon, yes I hold out the hope for eventual deification of man after he learns his salvation. As a Mormon who takes one side of the debate in progression between kingdoms, I even hold out hope for the possibility of eventual deification for Martin Luther King. He’s just not there yet (meaning, if judged solely on the life he lived in this mortal probation – I can’t speak as to what progress he has or hasn’t made in the last 45 years. I’ll leave that to a merciful God).

        • Joe

          Hm. I guess I can’t enclose things in greater-than / less-than brackets. What I wrote was that the structure for acceptable funeral mention of flaws is

          {X was flawed} BUT ( {I honor X anyway} and/or {I leave X in Gods hands} )

        • Wade Davis

          I would say that the big weakness in your analogy is that funeral speakers usually have some personal connection with the deceased that gives them greater leeway in tastefully referencing the flaws of the deceased person. In my view, Peterson’s “hasty comments” started abruptly with a list of MLK’s “serious” flaws. This is really quite different from merely admitting that he was flawed. So, no, I don’t think your analogy works as well as you would like in the service of exculpating Dr. Peterson in the poor way he constructed his remarks. I can only imagine you showing up at a stranger’s funeral to talk about how the deceased was a bibulous wife-beater. Whatever you say after that, I think the mourners would still be justified in shuffling you off the podium. Refraining from such comments on that occasion is far from implicit deification of the dead. That’s ridiculous hyperbole.

          • danpeterson

            Wade Davis, this is roughly your twentieth comment on this subject (maybe more like your thirtieth), and you plainly still don’t understand the point of my post.

            That actually disqualifies you from commenting, and you should realize that.

          • Wade Davis

            Oh, I understand your post perfectly well. I don’t have to agree with the manner in which you expressed your thoughts. Text and subtext; intentions and unintended consequences: all of these things have a place in considering how we express our thoughts. Joe has come to your defense on that point, and I have shared with him my view on why his argument doesn’t really work.

          • danpeterson

            No, you don’t have to agree. But, if you’re going to comment on what I said, it would be helpful for you to get it right.

  • Nate Oman

    Dan: I understand your claim that antidiscrimination laws directed at private discrimination are unnecessary in competitive market because discriminatory firms will be driven out of business. Two points. First, the most sophisticated libertarian defense of this argument is Richard Epstein, Forbidden Grounds (Harvard UP, 1995). Epstein, however, believes that the 1964 Act was justified. He acknowledged that there could be private cartels that excluded certain classes from the market. He thought it unlikely that such cartels could exist without state help, but when they did exist he claimed that anti-discrimination laws are necessary to insure that one has a competitive market to which everyone has access. However, in the Jim Crow South there were lots of state and local laws that required or encouraged private discrimination, as well as police connivance at private violence.

    Second, there may be cases where reasonably competitive markets will produce stable discriminatory equalibria. For example, where there are information asymmetries, non-prejudiced businesses may engage in discrimination as a signaling device. For historical or cultural reasons, this will be the cheapest way of overcoming the information asymmetry and will thus not be eliminated by competition. Or at least this is the argument that Eric Posner makes in his book Law and Social Norms (Harvard UP, 2000). If Posner is right, then you would need antidiscrimination laws even if you have relatively competitive markets.

    For what it is worth, I think that full participation in the market is an important social and political good. If we have evidence that some group is systematically denied access to large and important parts of the market, then I think we are justified in passing laws that provide such access. While libertarians are divided on the normative rationale for markets, if you think that markets are an important social good then laws guaranteeing access to such markets ought to be justified even on libertarian grounds.

    • danpeterson

      Good grief, Nate. Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve contributed a reasoned comment to this thread.

      I’m appalled. I should probably delete it.

      You raise very good points, well worth discussion. However, the economic aspect of my post was, at most, a secondary aspect of a subordinate point, and I just don’t have the time right now.

      But thank you. Both for the refreshing change of pace and for the recommended reading.

  • Joe

    The Pledge of Allegiance is seriously flawed.
    • It was written by a socialist.
    • The original Bellamy salute was something very close to the salute of the National Socialist Workers Party.
    • It is associated with counterfeit patriotism (train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, rather than true patriotism which is to be the children of our Father in Heaven).
    • It is strongly nationalist to an aggressor, interventionist nation whose slogan is “Power of Pride”. Power being ability to coerce and Pride being enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen.
    • Saying it is swearing a vow, a pledge, a promise, an oath, a covenant to an inanimate object (the flag), and to a country (the Republic) which has lost it’s way, attempting to police the world, from a moral high ground it not longer holds (we murder 25% to 30% of our children annually, before they are born, some even as they are being born), rather than to God with whom we should be covenanting

    For a few years, I did not say the Pledge of Allegiance, in civil “disobedience” and protest to what America is and has become. And believe me, refusing to say the pledge is even less socially acceptable than not worshiping a deified MLK.

    But I’ve had a change of paradigm. Despite it’s flaws, I now salute the flag and says the pledge of allegiance, not for what it America *is*, but for what it represents – an ideal, a symbol, a representation of what a country could become – a destination, a beacon, a light-house we are trying to reach.

    America is not “the land of the free” nor is there “liberty and justice for all” in a true libertarian sense. But, there is an ideal which we hope to reach, a journey initiated by the founding fathers, and hopefully we gradually come nearer to that ideal.
    I don’t pledge with an unquestioning “slavish” allegiance to the country whose current condition (and trajectory) fall so short.
    I pledge instead a thoughtful, faithful allegiance to an ideal of Liberty and justice for all, which is hoped for but not seen.

    The Constitution is seriously flawed.
    • The Constitution counted slaves as only 3/5ths of a person.
    • Importation of slaves would continue to be allowed until 1808.
    • Slaves who managed to escape had to be returned.
    • No man could be deprived of property without due process, and slaves were considered property.

    No, the Constitution did not bring liberty and justice for all, but it moved us closer to an ideal.
    The 13th Amendment brought the nation closer to an ideal.
    Overturning Jim Crow laws brought the nation closer to an ideal.
    Affirmative action quotas, like union legislation, while they certainly may have served a useful purpose repairing some wrongs, are perhaps like a certain teenager on an unpaved country road in Idaho 25 years ago, who while attempting to get back onto the road may have over-corrected the car and swerved past the mark, getting just as far from the right road just on the other side, when what was needed was gradual and cautious course correction.

    —–
    The Pledge of Allegiance is seriously flawed BUT I honor it anyway, for it’s high ideals.
    The Constitution is seriously flawed, BUT I honor it anyway, for it’s high ideals.
    MLK was seriously flawed, BUT I honor him anyway, for his high ideals.

    • danpeterson

      I’m not sure, Joe, whether you think you’re arguing with ME.

      Just to be clear — I thought I WAS clear — I never said “MLK was flawed, therefore nobody should pay any attention to him.”

      • Joe

        nope. I’m agreeing with you. I apparently wasn’t clear.

        I agree that you WERE clear. But not everyone apparently sees that, when they fight and argue vehemently against something you DIDN’T actually say.

        I agree with you, that a person can be flawed, and still be worthy of honor for things they accomplished. I feel the same principle can be applied to the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Constitution.

  • Manuel Villalobos

    I love when flawed characters accomplish great things.

    Even better, I love it when flawed characters are remembered for their stand on the right side of history when their allegedly “more righteous” counterparts are remembered in shame for standing on the wrong side of history. This is how I personally choose to remember Martin Luther King Jr. And the lesson I draw from this post is that one can live a righteous life and in the end be a scumbag (like those allegedly righteous, moral and orthodox religious people of the far right) or one can be flawed and be closer to the basic and core teachings of true Christianism and have an immense impact on societal and political scopes and be remembered with honor and gratitude.

    Because as flawed as he was, Martin Luther King still stands in my mind and in my understanding much higher than people who allegedly lived exemplary lives yet did not have the manhood, the inspiration and the clarity of mind to stand in the right side of history and be true Christians beyond their personal prejudices (Mormons leaders past and present included).

    • danpeterson

      I’m not offering a brief for bigots, but I don’t think that those who had reservations about the Civil Rights movement were necessarily all evil.

      Lost in all of the name-calling and the absurd accusations against me was my simple call for charity. And, plainly, it’s still lost.

      Needless to say, I don’t share in your condemnation of the leaders of my church. They were and are good men, and they accomplish a great deal of good.

      That the leaders of a church that was still mostly isolated in the Great Basin, where few blacks lived (and relatively few blacks still live), weren’t in the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and even had some worries about it doesn’t, in my judgment, come anywhere near meriting their dismissal as bad men.

      Most good people live their good lives out privately. Virtue doesn’t have to be political.

      • Manuel Villalobos

        I agree with you that those who had reservations about the Civil Rights movement were necessarily all evil. I did not state that. You are falling in the same patterns some of your harsh critics fall. But I made my comment to prove a point and you just did. I gave an opinion and you polarized it implying I called them “all evil.”

        I want you to know that I do not support any uncharitable comment made against you.

        I respect if you don’t share in my condemnation of LDS leaders, who are the leaders of my church also, as I am a fellow Mormon. They were and are good men, but they are also flawed. Some of them were and are immensely flawed in my opinion.

        I am finding a bit disingenuous your minimizing portrayal that they simply were not at the forefront of Civil Rights and that they had “some worries” about it. I don’t know if you are doing this out of lack of knowledge on the subject or simply through a common flawed technique of Mormon Apologetics that tends to minimize the flaws of their own.

        However, I think you are gravely mistaken on this particular matter, and some of their words and actions prove to be beyond “some worries” and well into the deep territories of bigotry and hatred. That doesn’t make them “all evil.” But if you want to have an objective discussion about an icon, then you must accept objectivity on your own play field too.

        • JohnH

          God calls flawed men as that is the only kind of men on the Earth. The church as a whole and individually is called to grow in grace and truth, the Apostles and Prophets are not excepted. We do not receive truths until we are capable of bearing them, as judged by God not men.

          I am sure I do not know all the statements that you refer to, I am sure they were spoken from a position of limited understanding and that the men that said them have accepted the further light that has been given them.

          I know that God directs the Church and that He has a purpose in all that He does and allows to happen in the Church, even if much of it is not clear now and may only become clear at a much later date.

  • RG

    Me: Ok; but I’m having a hard time thinking of a case where “wait a generation or two” would be a satisfying answer to anyone on the receiving end. Perhaps you can think of one?

    You: I’m having a hard time thinking that every desirable social change needs to involve state coercion, up to and including war.

    Perhaps, but you’re avoiding the implications of your own reasoning. Why won’t you provide an example?

    • danpeterson

      I’m avoiding no implications. I treat every issue separately, have always done so, and think that every other serious thinker does the same thing.

      And I’ve already given you an example from the past: the American Civil War.

      • RG

        Even if we assume that the signs were there that slavery would last for only another generation or two (and we assume that everyone could understand them), how is “in a generation or two the market will solve the problem” a compelling response for you in this case?

        If your response is that the only effective intervention was war, and war resulted in ~400,000 deaths, at what point would it have been “worth it” to free the slaves? 100,000 dead? 10,000? 100? 0? How do you justify this treshold to those who are subject to the oppression?

        I ask these questions seriously because I don’t understand how you’re reasoning through this situation.

        • danpeterson

          You don’t understand my reasoning because I’ve offered essentially none on the specific topic on which you’re focusing, and have neither offered nor drawn any conclusions on the matter.

          I simply observed that some have argued that slavery would have disappeared within a generation or two under the pressures of a market economy, without a war. I’ve said absolutely nothing about whether I myself think that gradualism would have been better than the war.

          But the American Civil War was exceedingly costly in every regard:

          The population of the United States was roughly 32 million when it broke out, slightly more than a tenth of what it is today.

          Somewhere between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers died in the Civil War — which, in today’s terms, would come to roughly 6.2-7.5 million dead soldiers alone, to say nothing of catastrophic, crippling injuries and civilian deaths. (The Afghan and Iraq wars pale into insignificance when compared with such figures.) Fully 8% of all American white males between the ages of thirteen and forty-three were killed — 6% in the North, and an unbelievable 18% in the South.

          Reasonable and decent people can and do differ on the question of whether ending slavery a generation or two earlier was worth that horrendous cost. I myself have no settled opinion on the matter, and could argue either way. That said, I’m a very big fan of Abraham Lincoln — who himself would have preferred that there had been no war, even at the cost of continuing slavery.

    • Darren

      Although I’d like action now but the nation’s been waiting more than a generation or two to overturn Roe v Wade. The income tax needs repealing and that’s been on the table for several generations. Farm subsidies need to go. That’s been several generations of tax waste. Ditto on Social Security. I’m not satisfied to wait nor do I think Dr. peterson advocated *at all* that people “satisfied” with the position of waiting a generation or two for a problem to be solved. from what i’ve read, he’s said that this is the best solution. And, frankly, not all people will be satisfied with any solution. Move on from this. you’re making no point what so ever.

      http://www.usdebtclock.org/

    • Darren

      I guess even Freakazoid eventually answers when asked enough times. Unfortunately for some, real life isn’t a cartoon. :(

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mX0gVzAOs0

  • lydia

    Your tone is so self important and judgmental in tone that the real message, whatever it is, gets lost.

    • danpeterson

      Plainly, several of the readers here are lost. I’ll give you that. Whether it’s my “self important and judgmental tone,” though, seems dubious to me at best. (I’m being gentle with you.) I know what “self importance” looks like, and I know what a “judgmental tone” is. Neither of them appears in my post, and neither of them is particularly characteristic of me.

  • Pingback: Martin Luther King, Part III, or The Human Comedy

  • RG

    Dan, you’re sidestepping the question. Let me ask it again:

    Assuming that the market, “over time,” will work these problems out, what do you have to say to those who have the misfortune of living in situations where the market hasn’t yet worked these problems out?

    If it depends on the case, go ahead and choose one you feel is easily justified (since ending slavery seems disputable to you, perhaps you should choose a less disputable case). If you don’t want to answer the question, might I ask why not?

    • danpeterson

      I’m not sidestepping it.

      Your question has nothing to do with anything I’ve said, and demands that I take some sort of stand on something that I’ve taken no stand on, or propose some sort of standard formula when I’ve expressly said that no such formula is even conceivable to me.

    • Darren

      Rg;

      Good grief you’re an insistant bugger. While I ultimately support the Civil War and the proclamation for freeing the slaves based essentially on Lincoln’s own reasoning that it would be utterly immoral to return blacks to slavery after they had sacrificed so much to preserve the Union -Lincoln’s ultimate and virtually sole purpose for going to war with the southern states (it was NOT to free the slaves)- by going to war AND proclaiming the slaves free the 10th ammendment of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution took a significant blow. No longer were the states viewed as sovereign from the federal government. From the time of Reconstruction to the present, it has been established that federal proclamations and mandates may take dominance over the states and their own laws. For generation after generation people see the federal government as their souce of earthly salvation (heck, nowadays I’d add spiritual salvation, ergo;, black liberation theology and collective salvation). I am of the mindset that sacrificing state sovereignty which resulted from the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation are in the long run more harmful and detrimental to liberty than was slavery. There are other reasons by which I support both the Civil War and freeing the slaves but as Dan has pointed out to you, they have NOTHING to do with Dan’s post on Martin Luther King Jr. Another time perhaps.

      Now, please, stop your gadfly nonesense. It’s irritating to entertain.

      • Quickmere Graham

        Wow. And Daniel Peterson just let this one slip right by. Incredible. Utterly incredible.

        • danpeterson

          Zzzzzz.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The 19th Century leaders of the LDS Church were primarily from Northern states, Canada, and the United Kingdom, societies which did not support slavery. In their dealings with the American Indians, they tended to be much more tolerant and accepting than many of their contemporaries. They actively supported missionary efforts to convert Indians to Mormonism.

    Brigham Young and other 19th Century leaders supported missionary work in Polynesia, which led to the establishment of Laie, the temple, and schools which developed into BYU Hawaii. Joseph F. Smith served as a missionary in Hawaii as a young man.

    In 1876, the Japanese ambassador to the US and his entourage were stuck in Salt Lake City for a month by heavy snow in the mountain passes that blocked their train. They were hosted and entertained by Brigham Young and other church leaders. It was their suggestion to Lorenzo Snow that they should send missionaries to Japan that led him to call apostle Heber J. Grant to do that in 1901.

    The Indians, the Polynesians, the Japanese, were all people that were looked down on by many Americans in the 19th Century, and prejudice against them was openly accepted among most Americans well into the 20th Century (manifested by the imprisonment of Japanese-ancestry citizens during World War II), but the Mormon leaders of that day actively invested their own personal time and limited resources in recruiting those people into their church.

    • danpeterson

      Excellent post. And these facts need to be more widely known.

  • RG

    Here are things you’ve said that relate to my question:

    As a quasi-libertarian, I have reservations about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, to say nothing of quotas and affirmative action. I believe that people have the right to be stupid, and even, within very broad legal limits, to be morally misguided. For example, I think people should be able to rent or not to rent, to sell or not to sell, for any reasons they choose, including very bad ones. Which means that I believe people have the right to refuse service to blacks, Irish, Jews, Catholics, and/or, yes, Mormons. (My hope would be that the market would eventually discipline such moral obtuseness, since Catholic money and Mormon money and blacks’ money is, equally, money, and since, in a competitive economy, people who turn down the money of whole large groups and alienate large sectors of their potential market will, in the long term, lose or at least marginalize themselves. But even if they survive and prosper, and even in the short term, they have that right.)

    I didn’t say that it would happen immediately. But, over time, businesses willing to accept money from everybody will tend to outperform comparable businesses that exclude, say, blue-eyed people, or Irish women, or Jews, or Methodists, or some other substantial portion of their potential customer base.

    The Nazis, for example, represented so urgent a threat that, obviously, extra-market solutions had to be found. Other situations are either not so urgent or not so severe, and waiting is just fine.

    Am I mistaken in believing that having “reservations about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, to say nothing of quotas and affirmative action” is taking some kind of stand? Are parts of these reservations not a belief that the market would have solved some of these problems in a generation or two, and that this is/was preferable to government intervention?

    If I’m not following you, please correct me where I’m wrong; but if I am following you, then I’m only asking you to clearly articulate your view.

    • danpeterson

      You seem to have missed the fact that my principal concern about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc., is moral/political, and has nothing whatsoever to do with predictions of how soon change would otherwise come. I made no such predictions, and cannot.

      What would I have said to people victimized by such things? I would have said to them what I would have said to others: That racial discrimination was and is wrong, that I would not willingly patronize a business that refused black customers, and that Jim Crow laws were and are immoral and should be overturned. I would have supported Rosa Parks and other peaceful efforts to bring such wrongs to the attention of the nation’s moral conscience.

      You’re demanding formula-like answers to questions that, in my express view, have no such answers, and for which, in any event, I’ve never claimed to have specific answers.

      I don’t understand why you’ve chosen to focus like a laser, and so insistently, on such matters, which are irrelevant to the principal issues I’ve raised.

  • http://bookwonk.org Levi Barnes

    That’s fine as long as your 4th of July essay begins, “Thomas Jefferson was a plutocrat, atheist and serial rapist.”

    • danpeterson

      It’s no sin to be clueless and to have no idea what I was talking about. The sin is, at this point, to be deliberately clueless, to invest effort in not understanding.

      Anyway, I’m certainly not going to begin any essay about Jefferson with an incoherent concept and two falsehoods. I’ll leave that sort of thing to people like you.

      • http://bookwonk.org Levi Barnes

        I apologize for being so abrasive.

        Certainly those charges against Jefferson are true, but that’s not the point. I wanted you to consider why the accusation bothers you so and why you’ve never had all the same thoughts in your post regarding Jefferson. I suspect the difference reflects your feeling toward their (King and Jefferson’s) respective politics.

        It offends me a little to hear you hold your nose and pay lip service to King’s legacy when you clearly feel kind of luke warm about civil rights. (What’s a few lost generations of African Americans next to the sacred principle of limited federal powers? Right?) Only the privileged can wait so patiently for justice.

        That said, on a reread I can appreciate your message about *not* letting King’s (or anyone’s) personal behavior devalue his public contribution, but your post seems more like an attempt to do just that.

        • danpeterson

          “Certainly those charges against Jefferson are true.”

          No, they’re not actually certain. They’re disputed and they’re disputable.

          By contrast, MLK’s plagiarism and his adulteries are, sadly, undisputed.

          “I wanted you to consider why the accusation bothers you so and why you’ve never had all the same thoughts in your post regarding Jefferson.”

          I’ve never posted about Jefferson, to the best of my recollection. So what on earth are you talking about?

          And, actually, I don’t much care one way or the other about the charges regarding Sally Hemmings. If they were proven true, which they haven’t been, it wouldn’t matter a great deal to me.

          “I suspect the difference reflects your feeling toward their (King and Jefferson’s) respective politics.”

          I’m not a particular fan of Thomas Jefferson. Some things about him I like, while other things I don’t.

          You’re simply wrong.

          “It offends me a little to hear you hold your nose and pay lip service to King’s legacy when you clearly feel kind of luke warm about civil rights.”

          Tough luck. It offends me a great deal to see you bear false witness against me.

          I wasn’t holding my nose.

          I wasn’t paying lip service.

          And I’m not lukewarm about civil rights.

          You presume to know me, and you don’t. You presume to judge me, and you’re plainly incompetent to do so.

          “What’s a few lost generations of African Americans next to the sacred principle of limited federal powers? Right?”

          So, with RG and Josef Stalin (though against Abraham Lincoln), you have absolutely no reservations about killing hundreds of thousands of people in order to achieve your ends.

          The funny thing is that I haven’t even said that I think the Civil War was wrong. I’ve simply said that it can plausibly be argued that killing 8% percent of all white American males between thirteen and forty-three was too high a price. Lincoln thought so, and I can’t find it in my heart to condemn him for it.

          “Only the privileged can wait so patiently for justice.”

          Lincoln wasn’t particularly privileged.

          “That said, on a reread I can appreciate your message about *not* letting King’s (or anyone’s) personal behavior devalue his public contribution, but your post seems more like an attempt to do just that.”

          Your mind-reading skills are, very obviously, extremely weak. If I were you, I’d keep my day-job.

          • http://www.levibarnes.com Levi Barnes

            I clearly didn’t express myself very well. What I meant to point out was that if you started a post by accusing Thomas Jefferson of rape, then followed by harping on this anti-religiosity, then criticized the Constitution because it gave voting rights only to White male landowners, and all of it on the 4th of July, it wouldn’t really matter how many kind words you finished with, we’d be left with the impression that you were a little sour on the American founding. Right? So with MLK.

            But maybe I should have focused on the substance. I think you’re rejecting the better part of King’s agenda. The civil rights movement wasn’t just about overt, government-sanctioned racism, but also about institutional racism. I believe that discrimination is self-perpetuating and quite resilient to economic forces. (Quasi-libertarians may disagree, but the weight of empirical evidence is on my side, I believe.) From a place of privilege it’s easy to say “the invisible hand of capitalism will remedy it all in the end.” Meanwhile, generations of minorities slip by in institutionalized poverty and oppression as they did for 100 years between the civil war and the civil rights movement. Dr. King said that since the nation had worked an extraordinary wrong against African Americans, it was fair to ask it to do extraordinary things *for* African Americans. I think he was right.

          • danpeterson

            I clearly didn’t express myself very well. What I meant to point out was that if you started a post by accusing Thomas Jefferson of rape, then followed by harping on this anti-religiosity, then criticized the Constitution because it gave voting rights only to White male landowners, and all of it on the 4th of July, it wouldn’t really matter how many kind words you finished with, we’d be left with the impression that you were a little sour on the American founding. Right? So with MLK.

            I disagree.

            If I began by falsely alleging that Thomas Jefferson was a plutocrat and atheist but argued that he was, nonetheless, a very great man who accomplished great things for his country, showing that flawed people can still make enormous contributions, good and fair-minded readers would have little problem understanding the point of what I had written.

            (I drop the accusation of “serial rapist” not only because it’s egregiously false but because it’s so criminal and off-the-charts bad that nobody could possibly continue to argue that a man convicted of such crimes was “great” in any sense involved with moral causes.)

            But maybe I should have focused on the substance.

            Ya think?

            I think you’re rejecting the better part of King’s agenda. The civil rights movement wasn’t just about overt, government-sanctioned racism, but also about institutional racism.

            Which is fine. I don’t mind holding people’s feet to the fire for bad behavior, even if it’s not illegal. I paid tribute to Dr. King’s having brought racial discrimination to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness as a moral issue. That, I think, was the core of his success, and I’ve fully endorsed it.

            I believe that discrimination is self-perpetuating and quite resilient to economic forces. (Quasi-libertarians may disagree, but the weight of empirical evidence is on my side, I believe.)

            And, even though that was a peripheral aspect of a secondary issue in what I wrote, I might someday be interested in reading your discussion of that empirical evidence.

            From a place of privilege it’s easy to say “the invisible hand of capitalism will remedy it all in the end.”

            Feel free to drop the “place of privilege” line of ad hominem well-poisoning.

            Meanwhile, generations of minorities slip by in institutionalized poverty and oppression as they did for 100 years between the civil war and the civil rights movement.

            And you believe that that’s because of white racism?

            If so, please read the work on the subject of Dr. Thomas Sowell. Speaking of empirical evidence.

            Dr. King said that since the nation had worked an extraordinary wrong against African Americans, it was fair to ask it to do extraordinary things *for* African Americans. I think he was right.

            And we have. Yet the “extraordinary things” that we’ve done for them have, in many very serious ways, hurt them.

        • Darren

          “Certainly those charges against Jefferson are true, but that’s not the point. ”

          AMG (ay mis gatos) you’ve really burried your head away from history somewhere. there is absolutely no way you can say that Thomas Jefferson was a “serial rapist”. Heck, you cannot even say he had sexual relations with any of his slaves and do so with anything substantive. Just wild-eyed speculation. (Oh dear, our nation’s intellect needs a boost).

          “I suspect the difference reflects your feeling toward their (King and Jefferson’s) respective politics.”

          That’s about as substantive as saying that Thomas Jefferson was a “serial rapist”. What’s your evidence? That you “suspect” it to be true. Hey, no sweat on being just a bit libelous, eh? No big deal, right? I mean, it’s just Dan Peterson and a principal founding father. My “suspicion” is that you politicaly disagree with both so you have no problem to libel either. That in your mind you think you’re right regardless of how far off from the truth you are. Yup, go for that collective good we keep hearing about. Individuals don’t matter so long as the collective good is realized.

          “(What’s a few lost generations of African Americans next to the sacred principle of limited federal powers? Right?)”

          You mean how abortions, single mothers, school drop out rates, crime, and poverty have skyrocketed under the government’s involvement to rescue the impoverished blacks? Pick any large urban center, look at the unemployment, crime rate, single parenthood, teenage pregnancy, drug use, etc. amongst blacks and than view these metropolitan utopias as being solidly controlled by big government folks. If big government works so well, than why does it work so poorly in these places? Perhaps more money and more bureaucrats would help.

          “Only the privileged can wait so patiently for justice.”

          So must anyone else if they truly seek and want the blessings of privilege.

          “It offends me …”

          I offends me to realize the high levels of haughty self righteousness elitism you exert in your posts. i once heard a joke which went like, “what is a midget”. “what?” “A Texas who got the crap kicked out of him”. I think that joke is much more apt for liberal snotism.

          “That said, on a reread I can appreciate your message about *not* letting King’s (or anyone’s) personal behavior devalue his public contribution, but your post seems more like an attempt to do just that.”

          Huh? What post did you read and reread? I can’t find that post anywhere. :(

    • Darren

      A serial rapist. Wouldn’t that be defamation since there’s ZERO evidence tha Thomas Jefferson raped anyone, even a young slave girl? There’s only speculation, nothing more.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    PBS has been showing a three part documentary with reenactments about the abolitionists who pressed for the end of slavery in the US. Interestingly it shows how each abolitionist leaders had some flaws, often disagreeing on the proper means to achieving freedom for the slaves, and even making personal attacks on each other. The extremist, John Brown, who wanted to foment a slave uprising, interacted extensively with Garrison and Douglass, whose means were more in line with Christian persuasion.

    It also depicts the political facts that led the slave states to believe that the political parity they had long maintained with the free states was going to be lost as new states were carved out of the western lands won from Mexico in 1847 and purchased from France in 1803, and which led them to insist that the citizens of Northern states should be coerced to return runaway slaves, coopting the citizens of free states into active support of slavery. Lincoln’s election showed them that the Northern states could not be relied on to support the slave states, so they decided to jump ship and create a new nation that would protect them from the abolitionist sentiments stirred up by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book. There is no clear way that peace could have been maintained when slavery continued to operate in the South while the North refused to stop the loss of “property” that was walking off Southern farms. The South was determined to not accept any peaceful resolution of slavery that forced them to alter their practice of centuries. They had no patience for allowing a peaceful denouement of slavery.

    Besides, the ongoing violence that took place on slave plantations in “peacetime” was every bit as devastating to the slaves as war later became for their masters. Lincoln in his own second inaugural address spoke of the war as a balancing of God’s books, a destruction of the wealth that had been accumulated by stealing the blood of the slaves. There were very strong reasons why so many former slaves were willing to enlist in the Union army, even though it meant their death if they were captured. Perhaps in 1844, when Joseph Smith proposed that the sale of territorial lands to settlers could fund the purchase and freeing of slaves, there was still a window when a peaceful transition was possible. By 1860, that window appears to have closed.

    • Darren

      “There is no clear way that peace could have been maintained when slavery continued to operate in the South while the North refused to stop the loss of “property” that was walking off Southern farms. The South was determined to not accept any peaceful resolution of slavery that forced them to alter their practice of centuries. They had no patience for allowing a peaceful denouement of slavery. ”

      Exactly!!! War was pretty much inevitable. And when war comes I fully support preparing to fight it and to fight it vehemently.

      • Darren

        And Frederick Douglas is an all time historical hero of man. What a great man he was.

  • RG

    Darren,

    There are always costs associated with difficult decisions. I was with you until this: I am of the mindset that sacrificing state sovereignty which resulted from the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation are in the long run more harmful and detrimental to liberty than was slavery.

    How do you justify that?

    Dan,

    What would I have said to people victimized by such things? I would have said to them what I would have said to others: That racial discrimination was and is wrong, that I would not willingly patronize a business that refused black customers, and that Jim Crow laws were and are immoral and should be overturned. I would have supported Rosa Parks and other peaceful efforts to bring such wrongs to the attention of the nation’s moral conscience.

    What if those initiatives were unsuccessful in the short run? Would you support a government initiative to rectify the problem, or would you tell the oppressed to buck up and wait until the market resolves the problem in the next generation?

    I don’t understand why you’ve chosen to focus like a laser, and so insistently, on such matters, which are irrelevant to the principal issues I’ve raised.

    Because I think this gets at a significant reason that many are upset with your post (matters of tone aside). You admire MLK’s courage and oratory skill, but you seem to suggest that he didn’t solve anything that the market wouldn’t have solved in due time. Now that I understand your position better, it seems to me that you are saying that MLK did great (maybe even necessary?) things to end discrimination in as much as it didn’t require government intervention. That you would have supported those things that did not involve government intervention; but government intervention is only necessary in extreme situations (like the Nazis). If this is your position, I still wonder where (and how) you draw the line. Frankly I’m shocked that slavery is even an open question in this regard.

    So, what’s at stake in my focused questioning? Respect from portions of the Mormon academic community, I suppose. You’re a public intellectual, and we’re part of the same community. You represent me, in some regards; and normally I’m proud for such to be the case (And besides, it’s important for public intellectuals to clearly articulate their moral reasoning). To me, though, this post borders on embarrassing; and I’m trying to see it otherwise.

    • danpeterson

      You’re not even seriously reading what I’ve written.

      I expressly said, and have explicitly reiterated more times than I can count, that I fully support ending Jim Crow laws and government-enforced segregation and that Martin Luther King deserves honor and credit for his preeminent role in achieving that.

      One of the principal things that has irritated a few here is, in my judgment, their own inability to read. But I’m not responsible for that. It’s our inadequate public schools.

    • danpeterson

      So, you think it an open and shut case that it was worth killing off eight percent of the white males in America between the ages of thirteen and forty-three in order to accelerate the end of slavery?

      Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have agreed with you, but I think an argument can be made to that effect. I just don’t see it as quite so plain as you do. If Mr. Lincoln and I embarrass you, all I can say is “I’m sorry.” (He can’t say anything, because he was one of the Civil War’s last victims.)

    • Darren

      RG;

      “There are always costs associated with difficult decisions. I was with you until this: I am of the mindset that sacrificing state sovereignty which resulted from the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation are in the long run more harmful and detrimental to liberty than was slavery.

      How do you justify that?”

      The Founding Fathers designed a federalistic Republic which allowed the federal government to perform certain duties and explicitly forbade it to do anything esle for that everything else was left to the states. In other words, the vast bulk of government power ws within the people’s individual states where their voice was more directly heard and had a much more direct infuence over the laws which govern them. By negating state sovergnty, the federal government may at a whim, take people’s money ad property (income tax, taking GM away from the proper investors and giving it to a favorable organization like the unions), enforce immoral acts of violence (abortion), take away the people’s voice (overturning Prop 8 and various other court decisions), prosecute anyone they want (Ted Stevens during a crucial campaign and based on trumped up charges by the Obama campaign), pivot elections to their favor (cracking down on state-initiated voter ID laws), etc. By allowing the federal governmentto reign supreme over the states, we are NOt a free nation but subjects to a political oligarchy.

      “What if those initiatives were unsuccessful in the short run? Would you support a government initiative to rectify the problem, or would you tell the oppressed to buck up and wait until the market resolves the problem in the next generation?”

      I know that was for Dan for as for me I’d tell people to fight like hell to emancipate slaves in their respective states.

      • RG

        Thanks, Darren. That explains your position more clearly. And your answer to the question I posed to Dan, gives me an idea of how you would respond to slavery. I’m still not sure, though, how the harms you list “are in the long run more harmful and detrimental to liberty than was slavery.” How do you arrive at this conclusion? What if individual states were unable to do away with slavery? Does this mean you would let it continue? What costs would be worth getting rid of slavery? I’m not posing these questions with the intent that you should answer them all. My point, rather, is that compromises are unfortunate; but I’m not sure the compromises you’ve listed are clearly more important than eliminating slavery.

        • Darren

          ““are in the long run more harmful and detrimental to liberty than was slavery.” How do you arrive at this conclusion?”

          With the risk of coming across as cold and heartless, its a simple matter of quantity. Slavery ,as cruel and evil, and contrary to the founding priciples of this nation, was restricted to one specific class of people. By unleashing the federal government and giving it broad power, all people, regarldess of and class is subject to its will. We’ve seen this played out repeatedly in human history and it is precisely what the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid. By having the federal government dctate that there is no more slavery in the nation, you also allow the government to dictate iother aspects of freedom.

          Slavery was brutal but the deaths from slavery is dwarfed by the number of deaths of unborn babies since Roe v Wade became a constitutional right. I very much favor overturning Roe v Wade but that does not mean that abortion will be nationally outlawed. In fact, it will probably strengthen laws allowing for abortion in areas where people collectively agree that it should be legal. Likewise, in areas where people disagree with abortons, the practice would probably be more forbidden by law. This is because overturning Roe v Wade would return the decision making power back to the states where it belongs in the first place. By making it a constitutional right, the federal government, via the Supreme Court, took that power away from the states and thus the people to decide for themselves. That makes all people subject to one central government. Furhtermore, if you track back the history of making contraceptions legal and a “right” and thus abortion, one of the main arguments for that success was that its legalization would mean that black populations may be controlled and reduced. today, black abortions far exceed abortions from other racial groups. So, who’s suffering more today? Blacks under slavery as decided per state, or blacks today whose population is being reduced because the federal government stepped in and dictated abortion as a right?

          http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=28941
          http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=apostle+claver+in+front+of+planned+parenthood&view=detail&mid=B29830DBD66BF292262FB29830DBD66BF292262F&first=0

          As for the second video, be advised that I do not use, nor condone the light use of the Hitler card. I reviewed the video and agree with its content with the exception that I’m wide open to the debate if what Planned Parenthood is “worse” than the gopvernance of Hitler or Stalin. But I make myself open to that debate without desiring to reduce the horror of abortion, particularly upon the black community.

          • RG

            Darren, I follow what you’re saying. While I suspect we disagree on the weight given to things such as abortion and one centralized government, I can see how you’ve come to your conclusion. Thank you for clarifying your position.

  • RG

    I expressly said, and have explicitly reiterated more times than I can count, that I fully support ending Jim Crow laws and government-enforced segregation and that Martin Luther King deserves honor and credit for his preeminent role in achieving that.

    I got that when I said, “Now that I understand your position better, it seems to me that you are saying that MLK did great (maybe even necessary?) things to end discrimination in as much as it didn’t require government intervention. That you would have supported those things that did not involve government intervention; but government intervention is only necessary in extreme situations (like the Nazis).”

    You still haven’t answered these questions: What if those initiatives were unsuccessful in the short run? Would you support a government initiative to rectify the problem, or would you tell the oppressed to buck up and wait until the market resolves the problem in the next generation?

    So, you think it an open and shut case that it was worth killing off eight percent of the white males in America between the ages of thirteen and forty-three in order to accelerate the end of slavery?

    Well, like you I think moral reasoning is a complex process. I’m not sure the signs were there that slavery would have ended in a generation or two (or if they were I’m not sure they don’t become clear in hindsight); and I’m not sure one could predict how many would die if it came to a war. I think it’s an open and shut case that government intervention should have been taken in such an event, even if it was at the risk of the 8% death toll you suggest. Even if we strip those variables away, though, and assume for the time being that we knew that slavery would end in a generation or two, and that ending it would entail massive casualties, I think we would still have a duty to end it given that: 1) Our government fostered it for 200 years and we owe it to those who were harmed by it, to end the practice; 2) Ending it wouldn’t destroy our country to the point it couldn’t be rebuilt; And 3) We have a moral imperative to do the right thing.

    • danpeterson

      I got that when I said, “Now that I understand your position better, it seems to me that you are saying that MLK did great (maybe even necessary?) things to end discrimination in as much as it didn’t require government intervention. That you would have supported those things that did not involve government intervention

      But I believe that the Jim Crow laws, and state-enforced segregation, did require government intervention to end — precisely because they were government-imposed. Political action is required to change state policy.

      but government intervention is only necessary in extreme situations (like the Nazis).”

      Sigh.

      I never said, I never said, I never said, I NEVER SAID that “government intervention is only necessary in extreme situations (like the Nazis).”

      What I believe is that there is a complex cost-benefit analysis that has to be done in any instance where change would be desirable. And that I don’t have a simple formula, with predetermined answers to all conceivable questions, to offer you. Yet you seem to continue to demand such a formula.

      You’re not going to get it from me. I never claimed to have it.

      You still haven’t answered these questions: What if those initiatives were unsuccessful in the short run? Would you support a government initiative to rectify the problem, or would you tell the oppressed to buck up and wait until the market resolves the problem in the next generation?

      It depends, as I’m now saying for the thirteenth time, specifically what you’re talking about. You’ve been so vague that I simply can’t tell.

      And, candidly, my interest in this conversation is flickering only very dimly at this point,

      You may simply have to report to the Mormon Intellectual Community(c) that I’m unworthy of its intellectual respect, because I’m massively bored by what I regard as a pointless and futile discussion.

      I think it’s an open and shut case that government intervention should have been taken in such an event, even if it was at the risk of the 8% death toll you suggest.

      You and that moral and intellectual pygmy Abraham Lincoln are on opposite sides, then. Tell the MIC to strike him off its approval list, too.

      And we’re not talking about the risk of those massive military deaths. That was the reality. And it excludes non-fatal casualities, civilian deaths and injuries, and economic damage.

      Even if we strip those variables away, though, and assume for the time being that we knew that slavery would end in a generation or two, and that ending it would entail massive casualties, I think we would still have a duty to end it given that: 1) Our government fostered it for 200 years and we owe it to those who were harmed by it, to end the practice; 2) Ending it wouldn’t destroy our country to the point it couldn’t be rebuilt; And 3) We have a moral imperative to do the right thing.

      As one of the great moral leaders of the twentieth century put it, in order to make an omelette you have to break some eggs. Or, as he also said, one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

  • RG

    What I believe is that there is a complex cost-benefit analysis that has to be done in any instance where change would be desirable. And that I don’t have a simple formula, with predetermined answers to all conceivable questions, to offer you. Yet you seem to continue to demand such a formula.

    You’ve made claims, as I’ve demonstrated above; and I’m only asking you to substantiate them. I’m not the one who suggested that waiting a generation or two for the market to correct discrimination is appropriate. I’m up for a complex discussion of “cost-benefit analysis,” and have even left the field open for you to choose the case. If you want to continue with slavery as your chosen example, I’m happy to oblige. If you want to drop the conversation, I suggest not making claims you’re unwilling to substantiate in the future.

    Regarding the MIC, there’s no need for me to report back. Have you seen how many “shares” this post has generated? Most of the community is probably well aware of the discussion.

    And we’re not talking about the risk of those massive military deaths. That was the reality. And it excludes non-fatal casualities, civilian deaths and injuries, and economic damage.

    You can’t argue ethics retrospectively. Decision making more often involves likelihoods rather than certainties. This is why I said: I’m not sure the signs were there that slavery would have ended in a generation or two (or if they were I’m not sure they don’t become clear in hindsight); and I’m not sure one could predict how many would die if it came to a war. I think it’s an open and shut case that government intervention should have been taken in such an event, even if it was at the risk of the 8% death toll you suggest.

    As one of the great moral leaders of the twentieth century put it, in order to make an omelette you have to break some eggs. Or, as he also said, one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

    I’m not sure what to make of this response. Even “open and shut cases” can involve a moral remainder that leaves the decision makers with a sense of grief (some would say regret) for the consequences (see Bernard Williams on agent-regret, for instance).

    • danpeterson

      You’ve made claims, as I’ve demonstrated above

      What claims have I made? Please feel free to formulate, very precisely, the exact proposition(s) that you believe me to have advanced.

      I’m only asking you to substantiate them.

      To substantiate what?

      I’m not the one who suggested that waiting a generation or two for the market to correct discrimination is appropriate.

      But there’s still discrimination, or so I’m told. Against ethnic minorities, gays, women, and any number of permutations and combinations of various groups. In all manner of areas. If you’re against permitting it to continue at all, you should be out there demanding new laws and new regulations right now, and lots of them, until everything is perfectly equal and non-discriminatory. Perhaps, indeed, you should be calling for revolution. Unless you’re willing to consider the possibility that not all discrimination demands instant cure by the shedding of blood.

      I’m up for a complex discussion of “cost-benefit analysis,” and have even left the field open for you to choose the case.

      You choose an example.

      Unless you’re really in favor of killing whatever number of people it takes in order to cure every instance of discrimination or injustice, no matter how minor, absolutely immediately, you too have to consider the ratio of cost to benefit.

      And that’s the only real claim that I made relative to this topic.

      If you want to continue with slavery as your chosen example, I’m happy to oblige.

      LOL. You’ve already sided with Stalin against Lincoln by declaring your willingness to see hundreds of thousands, even millions, of soldiers die violent deaths (to say nothing of civilians, and of the maimed and wounded both civil and military, and of economic destruction) in order to speed the demise of slavery up by a generation or two.

      I, by contrast, have said that I have no real position on the question, but that I can certainly appreciate Lincoln’s reservations. I don’t see that we have much left to discuss.

      Unless, of course, you want to explain your rationale on balancing costs against benefits. Somebody out there might be interested in that. (Candidly, I’m not particularly interested in your thoughts on the topic.)

      If you want to drop the conversation, I suggest not making claims you’re unwilling to substantiate in the future.

      I’ve made no such claims, but I’m very happy to drop the conversation. In fact, I’m going to do so. Both because I think it’s silly and a waste of time, and because I’m scheduled solid tomorrow with classes, office consultations, a breakfast with a colleague from Washington DC, a luncheon lecture on behalf of the BYU Alumni Association, and a drive to St. George.

      So we’re done.

      Regarding the MIC, there’s no need for me to report back. Have you seen how many “shares” this post has generated?

      Yes. It’s a pretty high number, though not my highest.

      Most of the community is probably well aware of the discussion.

      If so, I hope that they can read more accurately and with less acute Pavlovian responses than a number of the commenters here have shown.

      intervention should have been taken in such an event, even if it was at the risk of the 8% death toll you suggest.

      Very few of those involved at the time thought that such a war was justified in order to end slavery. Abraham Lincoln, with whom you disagree of course, explicitly denied on numerous occasions that he was fighting the war in order to end slavery, passionately opposed to slavery though he was.

      I’m not sure what to make of this response.

      You’re to reflect on the interesting fact that you come down on the side of Josef Stalin rather than that of Abraham Lincoln.

      • Darren

        “Unless you’re really in favor of killing whatever number of people it takes in order to cure every instance of discrimination or injustice, no matter how minor, absolutely immediately, you too have to consider the ratio of cost to benefit.”

        Perfectly said. Forced utopian advancement has, by far, porportionally murdered and enslaved more lives in the world than the US slavery system and all of American sins combined.

  • RG

    Dan,

    I’m tired of this discussion as well; but I think it’s important for you to see why someone from your faith and academic community might be troubled by this post (matters of tone aside).

    You’ve made the following statements:
    As a quasi-libertarian, I have reservations about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, to say nothing of quotas and affirmative action. I believe that people have the right to be stupid, and even, within very broad legal limits, to be morally misguided. For example, I think people should be able to rent or not to rent, to sell or not to sell, for any reasons they choose, including very bad ones. Which means that I believe people have the right to refuse service to blacks, Irish, Jews, Catholics, and/or, yes, Mormons. (My hope would be that the market would eventually discipline such moral obtuseness, since Catholic money and Mormon money and blacks’ money is, equally, money, and since, in a competitive economy, people who turn down the money of whole large groups and alienate large sectors of their potential market will, in the long term, lose or at least marginalize themselves. But even if they survive and prosper, and even in the short term, they have that right.)

    I didn’t say that it would happen immediately. But, over time, businesses willing to accept money from everybody will tend to outperform comparable businesses that exclude, say, blue-eyed people, or Irish women, or Jews, or Methodists, or some other substantial portion of their potential customer base.

    The Nazis, for example, represented so urgent a threat that, obviously, extra-market solutions had to be found. Other situations are either not so urgent or not so severe, and waiting is just fine.

    Unless you’re really in favor of killing whatever number of people it takes in order to cure every instance of discrimination or injustice, no matter how minor, absolutely immediately, you too have to consider the ratio of cost to benefit.

    If the first three of these statements are not claims, what are they?

    One way of reading these (first three) statements, in the context of everything you have to say about MLK is that while MLK is brave and worthy of praise, his efforts were not necessary since the market would have solved the problem in another generation or two. Do you see why this sounds bad? This is why I am searching for clarification. You seem reluctant to clarify, but from what I can gather you would go so far as to say that MLK did many great, even necessary things, to bring an end to discrimination. Yet you are ambivalent about the way in which the government interceeded. This sounds much less bad. But it’s only going to make good sense to me if you can articulate when you think government intercession is necessary (and to what degree). In the case of the Nazis, sure, it’s necessary to an extreme degree. But are you seriously ambivalent about the case of slavery (or are you only ambivalent about the degree of intervention)? You can see how this still looks bad, right? At least Darren provided a justification for this claim that absolves him of possible misreadings that make him look racist or insensitive to oppression.

    My suggestion is for you to take Nate’s recommendation above and run with the idea that all citizens have a right to equal access to the market, and that the government needs to enforce this. While this won’t necessarily solve the slavery question the way you’ve been arguing it, at least it provides a good baseline for you to parse other cases without opening the door for claims of racism or a large reluctance to involve the government to protect the oppressed.

    • danpeterson

      RG: “You’ve made the following statements:
      As a quasi-libertarian, I have reservations about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, to say nothing of quotas and affirmative action. I believe that people have the right to be stupid, and even, within very broad legal limits, to be morally misguided. For example, I think people should be able to rent or not to rent, to sell or not to sell, for any reasons they choose, including very bad ones. Which means that I believe people have the right to refuse service to blacks, Irish, Jews, Catholics, and/or, yes, Mormons.

      Yes, I’ve made those statements. And how would any cost/benefit formula — of the kind that you’ve continually demanded of me — be relevant to such a declaration of moral conviction?

      (My hope would be that the market would eventually discipline such moral obtuseness, since Catholic money and Mormon money and blacks’ money is, equally, money, and since, in a competitive economy, people who turn down the money of whole large groups and alienate large sectors of their potential market will, in the long term, lose or at least marginalize themselves. But even if they survive and prosper, and even in the short term, they have that right.)

      And, yes, I made that statement, too. But I still don’t see how a cost/benefit ratio is relevant to an issue of purely ethical conviction. Do we employ a kind of utilitarian calculus on whether mercy, say, or honesty should still be respected as a moral principle?

      I didn’t say that it would happen immediately. But, over time, businesses willing to accept money from everybody will tend to outperform comparable businesses that exclude, say, blue-eyed people, or Irish women, or Jews, or Methodists, or some other substantial portion of their potential customer base.

      I continue to think that arguably true. If you have evidence to prove it wrong, feel free to marshal your evidence. When I’m back from St. George, I’ll consider the option of reading what you have to say.

      The Nazis, for example, represented so urgent a threat that, obviously, extra-market solutions had to be found. Other situations are either not so urgent or not so severe, and waiting is just fine.

      Do you dispute that? Do you think that all cases of injustice and/or discrimination are equally urgent, such that killing on the scale of World War II would be justified in each and every instance?

      If so, there’s absolutely no point in discussing cost/benefit ratios with you, because you don’t actually care about such matters.

      If not, then you too have an implicit breaking point in your mind where the ratio of cost to benefit becomes too high to justify action, and you have no business demanding that I show you mine without first showing me yours.

      Unless you’re really in favor of killing whatever number of people it takes in order to cure every instance of discrimination or injustice, no matter how minor, absolutely immediately, you too have to consider the ratio of cost to benefit.

      An excellent point, and one that you have yet to answer.

      If the first three of these statements are not claims, what are they?

      They’re assertions of moral conviction, not declarations of empirical fact for which some sort of quantity derived from a cost/benefit ratio would ever constitute evidence or refutation.

      One way of reading these (first three) statements, in the context of everything you have to say about MLK is that while MLK is brave and worthy of praise, his efforts were not necessary since the market would have solved the problem in another generation or two.

      Except, of course, that I’ve expressly said — probably a dozen or so times now, if not many more — that his actions were meritorious in overcoming state-enforced segregation, which was not a market matter, and in making racial discrimination a burning issue before the national conscience, which became an accelerant for desired (and desirable) change.

      Do you see why this sounds bad?

      Yes. Of course. And a principal reason why it sounds bad to me is that it’s been falsely attributed to me. I disagree with it. It’s not my view. I don’t hold that position. I have no need to defend it. I resent being repeatedly told that it’s what I believe.

      This is why I am searching for clarification.

      You could start by reading and understanding what I’ve already said.

      You seem reluctant to clarify,

      I’ve been very clear. Over and over and over again. You’re reading things into what I wrote that aren’t there, and reading things out of what I wrote that I’ve expressly said.

      but from what I can gather you would go so far as to say that MLK did many great, even necessary things, to bring an end to discrimination. Yet you are ambivalent about the way in which the government interceeded. This sounds much less bad.

      And that’s actually my point of view. It is, in fact, exactly what I said.

      But it’s only going to make good sense to me if you can articulate when you think government intercession is necessary (and to what degree).

      You first.

      In the case of the Nazis, sure, it’s necessary to an extreme degree. But are you seriously ambivalent about the case of slavery (or are you only ambivalent about the degree of intervention)?

      Actually, I’ve simply said that I can see Abraham Lincoln’s point. He would have stopped the war immediately, if he could have, even if it meant that slavery survived. I haven’t actually said what my viewpoint is. (You missed that, of course. You’ve been too busy reading things into what I’ve written.)

      You can see how this still looks bad, right?

      Yes, which is why I wish that you and certain others would stop misrepresenting my views.

      At least Darren provided a justification for this claim that absolves him of possible misreadings that make him look racist or insensitive to oppression.

      I’m neither a racist nor insensitive to oppression, and I haven’t appreciated your determined attempt to make me appear so.

      My suggestion is for you to take Nate’s recommendation above and run with the idea that all citizens have a right to equal access to the market, and that the government needs to enforce this. While this won’t necessarily solve the slavery question the way you’ve been arguing it, at least it provides a good baseline for you to parse other cases without opening the door for claims of racism or a large reluctance to involve the government to protect the oppressed.

      Nate’s argument is interesting, and, when I have the time, I hope to read the things that he suggested. Mostly, though, I appreciate Nate’s failure to label me a Klan-sympathizer (in the style of Loyd Ericson), a “racist,” an advocate of segregation and slavery, a “sophist,” dishonest, a “total jerk,” and similar offensive bilge.

  • Gary

    I really don’t get it. It is as clear as it can be that everybody agrees that slavery was evil, Jim Crow laws were evil and that racial discrimination of the kind experienced by Blacks at the time of MLK was evil. But that doesn’t answer the question of how best to eliminate those evils. So now we have to ask that question: What is the most effective way of ridding ourselves of these evils?

    The answer to that question is difficult. The mere fact that a certain course of action will eliminate the evil does not mean that it is the best solution. Do the costs of eliminating that evil exceed the benefits? And if even if the benefit of eliminating the evil is worth the cost, we have to ask whether there are less costly and therefore more optimal solutions. It seem entirely reasonable to at least put those questions on the table for discussion, and it is quite ridiculous for anybody to excoriate those who do so as if openness to a variety of possible solutions is the same thing as endorsing the evil. It is a cost benefit analysis and it is complicated. All important decisions are. Get used to it. I love market solutions more than most, but I disagree with Dan’s belief that the market was the optimal solution for some forms of private discrimination for the reasons expressed by some others above. However, I still believe that one should be able to have a reasoned debate on the issue.

    And for what it is worth, I quite enjoy laudatory posts that expressly acknowledge the failings of great and inspiring individuals. I find that approach elevates, rather then denigrates them. Obviously some feel otherwise. That is fine, but so what? We all respond in different ways to different things. Surely we can do so without ascribing malice to those who see it differently.

    • danpeterson

      Thank you!

  • http://www.ldsphilosopher.com Jeffrey Thayne

    I find two things fascinating by this whole conversation:

    (1) I find it interesting that the current orthodoxy on civil rights has new definitions for all sorts of things. Condemning racism, but simply wanting to allow businesses to make choices, is racism of the worst kind. It’s worse than being a racist: it’s being a racist and a libertarian too. Eeek! It seems people believe that by not wanting the government to intervene, Daniel Peterson clearly wants people to be racist, and would clearly be racist himself given the chance and the right context. It’s clear that people really do depend on the civil rights narrative as a justification for their statist worldview. To be non-racist, one has to support government interventions—if someone can be non-racist and non-statist, that would threaten the grounds they stand on, and so this idea—this possibility—must be extinguished forever.

    (2) The absolute vitriol with which people respond to Daniel Peterson. Other scholars making similar claims in different contexts would be treated with respect, even if people disagree with them. But Daniel Peterson—he must be attacked viscously. He must be stepped on, railed against, hated, and despised. Who cares that the professor next door said a similar thing—he can be forgiven—but Daniel Peterson cannot be, because Daniel Peterson means it and means it in all the worst of ways. How childish is that? Come on, people, grow up! Daniel Peterson can present worldviews that differ from your own, without you feeling the obligation to vilify him for it. Many, many respectable scholars have. Why single out Daniel Peterson for bullying?

  • Gary

    One final comment on the merits of beginning a post such as this with a reference to MLK’s personal failings.

    MLK was a controversial figure in his time and remains so today for many. Many people still have a very low opinion of him for precisely these reasons. They cannot get past those personal moral failings and are blinded to his other accomplishments by his perceived hypocrisy. If you want to change their opinion, or at least open their mind to the possibility that he was indeed a great force for good, and that greatness and weakness can reside in the same human being, you will be much more effective if you acknowledge that you are well aware of these problems, that you have considered them carefully, and that you still believe he is worthy of great praise for the good that he accomplished. I rather suspect that this might have been one reason why Dan began this post the way he did.

    This is not a cheap shot or an attempt to damn with faint praise. It is the best way of reaching and persuading certain audiences. Of course, for those who prefer their heroes to be lauded without any explicit recognition of their failings, it seems like a cheap shot or at least an unwelcome distraction. I get that. But they are not the ones who need persuading. If you want to persuade others, you will be far more effective with Dan’s approach. I think he should be commended for it. If the praise is too tepid for you, well then perhaps you are not the intended audience but at least try to appreciate the fact that others might see it very differently from you.

    • danpeterson

      “I rather suspect that this might have been one reason why Dan began this post the way he did.”

      It was indeed.

      So it’s been deeply satisfying to be accused, on account of my post, of “sophistry,” “racism,” dishonesty, softness on segregation, indifference to slavery, comfort with oppression, affinity for the Ku Klux Klan, and similar things.

      Thanks, Gary, for getting it. I few here have, though many have, very obviously, not.

  • Darren

    “I’m neither a racist nor insensitive to oppression, and I haven’t appreciated your determined attempt to make me appear so.”

    Nor have I appreciated it. RG’s attemps have been very lame.

  • RG

    Dan,

    If you go back and read my questions, from the beginning I’ve only been looking for you to clarify those statements/claims/declarations of moral convictions. I suppose you have no reason to believe this, but I don’t want to see you as racist or insensitive to oppression. What I need you to do is to help me close the door on the latter since I think you’ve laid to rest the former.

    The language of “cost-benefit analysis” is all your own. You’re the one who introduces it, and you’re the one who employs it. FWIW, it’s not my preferred language (notice the quotation marks the only time I use it), and we can drop it. But I do want you to clarify your moral convictions.

    So let me go back to my initial question, and rearticulate one of my other questions. If they can only be answered on a case by case basis, then let’s go with slavery, I guess, unless you want to choose something else:

    Assuming that the market, “over time,” will work these problems out, what do you have to say to those who have the misfortune of living in situations where the market hasn’t yet worked these problems out?

    In cases of discrimination, when is government intercession necessary?

    You’re new demand that I answer these questions first is unfair for at least two reasons: For one, you’re the one expressing moral convictions here, not me. And secondly, I already answered them for the case you chose–slavery. Here’s what I said:

    I’m not sure the signs were there that slavery would have ended in a generation or two (or if they were I’m not sure they don’t become clear in hindsight); and I’m not sure one could predict how many would die if it came to a war. I think it’s an open and shut case that government intervention should have been taken in such an event, even if it was at the risk of the 8% death toll you suggest. Even if we strip those variables away, though, and assume for the time being that we knew that slavery would end in a generation or two, and that ending it would entail massive casualties, I think we would still have a duty to end it given that: 1) Our government fostered it for 200 years and we owe it to those who were harmed by it, to end the practice; 2) Ending it wouldn’t destroy our country to the point it couldn’t be rebuilt; And 3) We have a moral imperative to do the right thing.

    If you really want to argue this case, though, we’ll have to keep those variables in since moral reasoning cannot be done retrospectively.

    I’ll even go beyond restating my earlier view; and directly answer your question.

    Do you think that all cases of injustice and/or discrimination are equally urgent, such that killing on the scale of World War II would be justified in each and every instance?

    Of course not; but slavery seems to me a pretty clear contender for taking the risk. And I can’t think of a situation where “wait a generation or two” would be a satisfactory answer to victims of discrimination either. Perhaps you can? In general, my attitude is to do what I can in conjunction with the seriousness of the injustice; where “do what I can” means not detracting from my ability to fulfill my other obligations unless in extreme situations where I would give up my life. I see nothing necessarily wrong with government intercession. And I see a reliance on the market to fix the solution as one possibility, but as you’ve already admitted, it’s a slow process; and because it’s a slow process, I won’t count on “the invisible hand” to fix the problem.

    • danpeterson

      I’ve been very clear on my moral convictions. I believe in freedom, and I give freedom a very high priority. Including freedom of association, and freedom of trade, and property rights (which are, actually, a form of personal freedom; property, as such, doesn’t have rights).

      Where at all possible I defer to freedom. This includes the freedom for people to be stupid, nasty, insensitive, and even hateful.

      What’s unclear about that?

      Assuming that the market, “over time,” will work these problems out, what do you have to say to those who have the misfortune of living in situations where the market hasn’t yet worked these problems out?

      I would say that some people are stupid, evil, insensitive, and/or insane, and I would join in whatever efforts I could to effect change. But I see state coercion as a measure that should only be used in exceptional circumstances, and as a last resort.

      In cases of discrimination, when is government intercession necessary?You’re new demand that I answer these questions first is unfair for at least two reasons: For one, you’re the one expressing moral convictions here, not me.

      Oh come on. You’ve endorsed war to advance the end of slavery by a couple of decades even at the cost of millions of lives. That plainly implies a complex of moral judgments — e.g., that slavery is so bad that the deaths of millions represent an entirely acceptable price to pay in order to speed up its demise.

      And secondly, I already answered them for the case you chose–slavery. Here’s what I said:

      . . . I think it’s an open and shut case that government intervention should have been taken in such an event, even if it was at the risk of the 8% death toll you suggest.

      To which I respond that, if you find it an open-and-shut case that it would be a great thing to kill millions of people in order to end slavery a generation or two earlier, you’re clearly comfortable with a moral calculus in which the ratio of cost to benefit is very, very high. I myself might also conclude that the cost is justified — I’ve never said that I don’t think the Civil War a just and righteous one, only that I can understand Mr. Lincoln’s agonizing about it and that I don’t think the case against it entirely unreasonable — but I certainly can’t do so with the airy insouciance that you seem to feel. I’m with Abraham Lincoln on this one; I regard him as a good companion (certainly better than Comrade Stalin) in questions of morality and ethics.

      However, while you demand some sort of formula from me — a neat formula that I’ve said, time and time again, that I don’t have, don’t think is possible, and won’t give — you decline to offer yours.

      Me, previously: “Do you think that all cases of injustice and/or discrimination are equally urgent, such that killing on the scale of World War II would be justified in each and every instance?”

      Of course not;

      Then you have some sort of moral calculus that allows you to make that decision.

      Share it with me. I don’t claim to have a neat formula that I can share, but you demand one of me. Therefore, I assume that you must have one. Send it along!

      but slavery seems to me a pretty clear contender for taking the risk.

      It certainly is.

      And I can’t think of a situation where “wait a generation or two” would be a satisfactory answer to victims of discrimination either.

      So any discrimination at all would, at least potentially, merit going to war and possibly killing millions and millions of people? You say that you don’t mean that, but then that’s effectively what you say. Let’s take the case of discrimination against women: For years, women were pretty much confined to secretarial positions rather than executive ones. That lasted for at least two generations, and possibly more. How many soldiers should have died to right that wrong?

      If you don’t think that mass death would be a reasonable price to pay for moving a few women from the secretarial pool into the executive suite, please outline the precise moral formula that undergirds your judgment.

      In general, my attitude is to do what I can in conjunction with the seriousness of the injustice; where “do what I can” means not detracting from my ability to fulfill my other obligations unless in extreme situations where I would give up my life.

      And you think that’s not my attitude? On what basis do you imagine that?

      I see nothing necessarily wrong with government intercession.

      I see nothing “necessarily wrong” with government intervention, either. But I see it as a last resort, and a dangerous one.

      And I see a reliance on the market to fix the solution as one possibility, but as you’ve already admitted, it’s a slow process; and because it’s a slow process, I won’t count on “the invisible hand” to fix the problem.

      So instantaneousness is an essential quality for you in solutions to societal problems, even if it necessitates the death of millions.

      Welcome to the Gulag.

      My luncheon lecture today was postponed because of exceptionally icy roads, and I’ve elected, for the same reason, to drive to St. George tomorrow instead of tonight.

      Which means that I had more time today than I had expected, but also that I won’t be responding to you tomorrow.

      And the fact that I’m going to be busy doing other things in St. George for a few days means that I most likely won’t be responding to you for several days.

      And, anyway, I think this exchange has run its course. I have other things, more important and more pressing things, to attend to.

      I wish you all the best.

  • Quickmere Graham

    Danpeterson said “So any discrimination at all would, at least potentially, merit going to war and possibly killing millions and millions of people? You say that you don’t mean that, but then that’s effectively what you say. Let’s take the case of discrimination against women: For years, women were pretty much confined to secretarial positions rather than executive ones. That lasted for at least two generations, and possibly more. How many soldiers should have died to right that wrong”

    Look, people, it’s either women as second-class citizens or mass death. I know what I’D choose, you murderous blood-thirsty freaks. Back to your typewriters.

    • danpeterson

      QG, I’m sorry that you don’t seem able to follow the argument, but you need to try, in the future, not to conflate your caricatures with what others are actually saying. It embarrasses the grown-ups when you do that.

  • RG

    Dan,

    The language of “formula,” like “cost-benefit anlysis” is all your own. I’ve never used the word once. Also, note that every time you’ve asked for clarification of my view, I’ve provided it by directly answering your questions.

    Regarding the slavery example, I think that there are situations where values can conflict with each other such that one or more values cannot but be lost in deciding what to do. Despite the conflict, however, there may still be a clear course of “right” action. This doesn’t mean that one performs the right action with an “airy insouciance.” Rather there should be some kind of remainder associated with the loss of the other value(s). This is why I referenced Williams’ notion of agent-regret above; although I would use the language of “grief.” As such, something might be an open and closed case in terms of a right course of action; but also a difficult decision because of the grief that should remain due to the loss of the other value.

    Now, we can continue to tweak the variables in the slavery example such that the conflict becomes a dilemma–a situation where there is no clear course of right action. We can try to do this if you are interested since we may have different points where a conflict becomes a dilemma and it might be useful to explore reasons why we have differences. Nonetheless, this should give you a general idea of how I reason through a situation.

    So any discrimination at all would, at least potentially, merit going to war and possibly killing millions and millions of people? You say that you don’t mean that, but then that’s effectively what you say. Let’s take the case of discrimination against women: For years, women were pretty much confined to secretarial positions rather than executive ones. That lasted for at least two generations, and possibly more. How many soldiers should have died to right that wrong?

    If you don’t think that mass death would be a reasonable price to pay for moving a few women from the secretarial pool into the executive suite, please outline the precise moral formula that undergirds your judgment.

    I’ve provided a description of my general attitude toward these situations, which might serve as a means for creating something like a “formula.”

    In general, my attitude is to do what I can in conjunction with the seriousness of the injustice; where “do what I can” means not detracting from my ability to fulfill my other obligations unless in extreme situations where I would give up my life.

    So in the case of discrimination of women in the workplace, I would do things such as boycott those businesses (economic actions), perhaps shame them by holding signs in front of their business (social actions), and get the government to pass laws that forbid discrimination against women (political actions). Continued discrimination against women would then be subject to economic penalties, forced closure, and even jail time as enforced by the government.

    See, no mass deaths.

    I do not believe that telling women to wait a generation or two for the market to solve the problem is “doing what I can in conjunction with the seriousness of the injustice” since that is neither guaranteed, nor do I see any sufficient reasons why I shouldn’t appeal to the government to get involved.

    Where do we disagree?

    And you think that’s not my attitude? On what basis do you imagine that?

    I can’t tell because you haven’t been forthcoming.

  • Kenngo1969

    Professor Peterson:

    Well said. I agree. For whatever they may be worth, here are some of my own thoughts on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    http://www.etypeservices.com/SWF/LocalUser/Tooele1/Magazine21925/Publication/Magazine21925.pdf (This link takes awhile to load; scroll down to page A4, on which my Op-Ed appears).

    http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/tag/martin-luther-king-jr/ (See the several links included on this page).

    Thanks!


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